Nairobi Solar machine update

I arrived in Nairobi on Sunday night. I brought with me 7 kilograms of kit: a 10 Watts solar panel with regulator, 12V battery and a selection of tools and electronic components.

On Monday I went to Nairobi University and found the local branch of the Fab Lab. Fab Labs develop the possibilities offered by the digitization of fabrication, leading to personal fabricators that will allow anyone to make almost anything, anywhere.

I was welcomed by Fab Lab director Kamau Gachigi, who introduced me to a team of undergraduate electronics and mechanical engineering students. I presented the idea of the Nairobi Solar Machine to the group. On day 1 we tried to define a machine to build in three days, possibly providing a solution to day to day situations encountered by Kenyan citizens. The suggestions were:

– a solar powered chaff cutter (rotary blades coupled to a mechanical feed used to break down vegetal matter for cattle food)

– an automated passion fruit picking robot that could recognise ripe fruit

– a matatu model robot (matatus are the local public transport minivans, that drive like lunatics and make their way through traffic with oversized horns)

– an electrically powered bucket hoist for extracting water from a water hole, with water level sensing capability.

We met early on day 2 and decided to go for the water hole option. Having no water hole and limited time, the construction of a scaled down model was adopted, with addition of a sound outputs and of a bucket tipping mechanism used to fill an external reservoir and of a solar tracking mobile platform for the solar panel. We split the group in 4 sub-groups, each dealing with a specific task: bucket hoist control, solar tracking, audio, mechanical construction. By the end of the day, the electronic modules (arduino based) were under way, as were the elements of the physical structure.

Today is day 3, 10.28 am. The students are working in a small office, I am going to go and check how they are doing. The frame that will hold the machine is being assembled by the carpentry workshop of the university. Stefhan Caddick is working on bucket design. There is good hope that something will be ready for the Maker Faire which starts on friday morning.
I will upload pics later if I find time.

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