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VUT students excel with low-tech innovation

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Schneider Electric invited the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and Sci-Bono students to participate in the joint, Nomade des Mers and Schneider Electric South Africa Low-Technology Innovation competition.
A team of three young creative thinkers, aptly named the Eye Owl Tech, from the French South African Schneider Electric Education Centre (F’SASEC), based at VUT, walked away with prize money to the value of €500.
The students, in teams of up to three members each, were given an hour and a half to assemble their low-tech lighting solution using natural, recycled, used or new components. Eye Owl Tech presented and showcased a working prototype of an LED-light called the Flip-Lamp.
The easy to use Flip-Lamp utilises gravity to pull a sand bottle with a pulley system inside a PVC pipe conducting electricity from an old microwave motor to fire up the LED light.
Their innovative low-tech light solution cost the team close to nothing as 99% of the materials used to produce the Flip Lamp came from reusing products that were thrown away – including wires, LEDs, plastic bottles, nails, tape, straws, foil, sandpaper and parts from a microwave that had been discarded.
The Isibani High tech and the Edisons walked away with prize money to the value of €300 and €200 as second and third placed winners respectively.
The Schneider Electric Foundation in partnership with the Nomade des Mers expedition had challenged the science & technology students from the F’SASEC, VUT and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre to compete by being part of a collective effort in solving Africa’s fuel-based lighting challenge using low-tech innovations. With many South Africa still without access to electricity – there is therefore no better time than now to encourage action that seeks to use frugal solutions such as low-technologies to create innovative and sustainable solutions for energy supply.
Launched by the Low-Tech Lab, the Nomade des Mers expedition is a three-year sailing mission around the world that promotes, tests and prototypes low-technologies, while developing the international low-tech stakeholder and user community. As one of the six countries participating in this video documented programme that spans land and sea, South Africa is adding its contribution to the quest of seeking safe, sustainable, efficient and globally relevant energy solutions. Other participating countries include Morocco, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, and Brazil.
The low-tech innovations from the students are expected to be part of Schneider Electrics’ contribution to solve the energy supply and sustainability challenges currently being faced. Locally, Schneider Electric is contributing to the solution by seeking opportunities such as this to bring together young, enterprising and creative minds that want to make a difference.
Providing this frugal innovation platform for the competitors has unearthed incredible solutions that have potential to help solve energy supply challenges faced locally that can be applied to address global energy challenges. With many South African homes, made up of informal settlements and rural areas, still using fuel-based lighting solutions like candles and kerosene lamps, the potential for life threatening situations are a reality that we as Schneider Electric cannot afford to become a day-to-day constant.
Engaging young minds in frugal initiatives such as the low-tech innovation day is our way of contributing to sustainable energy solutions that address the ever increasing global energy challenge. The programme enables us to provide an environment where young, innovative engineers and critical thinkers can boldly take up the challenge of seeking solutions that can make a difference that matters -ensuring that Life is On for everyone, everywhere and at every moment. At the core of who we are as Schneider Electric is supporting and driving initiatives that seek to provide affordable, efficient, reliable, secure and sustainable energy for everyone, everywhere at every moment.
“As Schneider Electric, we believe that access to energy is a basic human right. Coupled with this belief is our intrinsic drive to ensure that Life is On for everyone, everywhere and at every moment as the world around us continues towards the direction of increased urbanisation, digitisation and industrialisation which fuels our passion to drive innovation at every level,” says Ernie Smith, Schneider Electric South Africa’s vice-president of partner business.
“As such, Schneider Electric South Africa values partnerships with institutions of learning – including the University of Johannesburg, Sedibeng College, College of Cape Town, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the VUT as sources of talent that will ensure innovations in energy provisions and management serve to achieve the goal of ensuring that Life is On.
“Our inclusion of the VUT in this low-tech innovation competition is quite significant because they are the only university in South Africa that has a science and technology park and we expect great innovations that will benefit the wider community. This opportunity will enable the winning students to potentially see their lighting solution going beyond prototype to possible commercialisation,” Smith adds.
After being awarded the coveted prize, Luvo Dubula – one of the winning students said: “We are delighted to have been given this opportunity to participate in this low-tech innovation competition. It has been very difficult because some of my team members (Clayton Martins and Lafras Magabe) were writing exams – but, because as young thinkers, we believe that the education and knowledge acquired at VUT should make a difference in our communities.
“Thanks to Schneider Electric and Nomade des Mers for helping to unlock our potential and push us to think outside the box with this challenge. It is often very easy to go for high-tech options but in a world where we need to think carefully about our impact on the environment – surely low-tech solutions are a viable option,” he adds.
“We are very proud of all the participants, in particular the high school pupils from Sci-Bono Discovery Centre. Although the judging panel had a very difficult task of selecting the winner, the Owl Eye team came out tops as they complied with the competition guidelines, which entailed that the low-tech innovations must be designed to provide lighting which enables unrestricted access to sustainable energy,” says Dalglish.