Flying Donkeys and Tech Expos

By Jessica Colaço
  Published 16 Dec 2013
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Flying Donkeys and Tech Expos

By Wachira Ndaiga- Gearbox intern

What a month it’s been! Between all our everyday work and grind, we managed to sign up, build and compete in an IEEE expo competition, as well as arrange a wildly inspiring Gearbox meetup with Jonathan Ledgard from EPFL on the Flying Donkey Challenge. Read on for more.

Jonathan from the Flying Donkey project Jonathan from the Flying Donkey project


We had Jonathan Ledgard , head of the Afrotech Project at EPFLand author of Submergence who came in on the 28th of October to introduce us and a number robotics enthusiasts in Nairobi to the flying donkey challenge . The grand and ambitious task is to design and develop a new transportation system of cargo robots out of Africa. Yes, in other words, flying cargo UAVs for Africa! Sounds crazy and out there but we’ve all come to see crazier and bigger things happen, drone cockroaches anyone? And when you have Yves Rossy, aka the Jetman, a Swiss pilot, inventor and aviation enthusiast, as one of the advisory board members you know things are going to be more than interesting for all participants involved! The winning pitch is driven home by the fact that Dr. Kamau Gachigi, the head of the University of Nairobi Science & Technology Park and Fab Lab is also an advisory board member, bridging this endeavor a little closer to home.

Participants interested in the flying donkey project Participants interested in the flying donkey project

Why you may ask? The essence is to spur innovation in addressing the exigent need for rapidly improved transportation infrastructure on the continent; a continent that is growing faster than most . So the more pertinent question is, how do we connect the unserved regions of Africa to the conveniences of our modern age? Connecting e-commerce solutions from SME retailers e.g. ‘Gikomba’ to a child with no shoes in Marakwet; reason being he/she lacks access to second hand clothes and apparel markets of the same vibrant nature.

About the challenge itself. The basic tenet is to design and build cargo robots with rugged air frames capable of lifting heavy suitcase loads over long distances. More specifically and in numbers, this translates to payloads of 20 kilos carried over 50 kilometres in under an hour. If this appeals to you as it does to us (it gets us all fuzzy with glee ), sign up to the Flying Donkey email newsletter hereto have first-hand information and details on possibly signing up and participating or maybe to be kept informed on progress made during the challenge.

Info session on the flying donkey challenge Info session on the flying donkey challenge


We never saw this one coming, but when your passion calls for action, like mother nature, you rush and get to business. IEEE held their 15th annual Engineering Competition and Expo on the 7 – 8th of November 2013 at the Oshwal Centre, Westlands, Nairobi and we were there, prepared and ready to see and participate in all our mustered fervour.

This year saw a number of impressive entries come through, such as the Desert Farms project initiative that posited the construction of housing block cum water desalination point. The design constitutes a slanted roof that evaporates sea water, collecting the condensate for domestic, industrial or agricultural use. If that doesn’t catch you as practical and useful, this next one will; Mugega Nassuru and co. of Aloyo Electronics have actually gone about designing and building rechargeable phone battery packs in Uganda. If you think that’s cool, you’ll be blown away by the fact that they actually sell these and have created a business around it. Check them out here.

We had our own entry, and we think it’s pretty cool as well though. The basic idea is the use of low cost robots for education, where the entire robot and supporting features are designed from scratch to be low cost. How? Using e-waste! It’s still early days but will keep you updated on the project and how progress is going ;).

The eventual winner was a group of students from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology who presented an alcohol sensing unit that detects inebriation in drivers and can disable their car from use.

All in all, we had a pleasant time, interesting to meet with passionate students from the various engineering schools in Kenya and even beyond. It came to our attention though that Multimedia University will be cancelling their Mechatronics Programme? Sad that they only have one working intake right now that might not be accredited on account of this. Will try to find out more and update you all.

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