When Plato argued that ‘Necessity is the mother of all inventions’, he provoked a storm of ideas on who actually gives birth to inventions. Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead disagrees with this idea. In fact, he thinks this proverb is silly. He says, “Necessity is the mother of futile dodges” is much closer to the truth. ‘The basis of the growth of modern invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity.’ Whitehead believes.
While I find Whitehead’s opinion interesting, Agatha Christie’s is a bit canny if you ask me. She thinks Invention arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness – to save oneself trouble.
I don’t know who you think the mother of invention is, but I know who the father is. Young people! And today we meet one of them.
Young, brilliant and ambitious, Mr Makatia tells the story of what happens when talent meets genius. He is gracious enough to draw the curtain and let us in on what the invention and engineering sphere looks like.
Congratulations to you and your team on your critically acclaimed innovation, the ‘Tiba vent’. How would you describe the thought process and inspiration behind this idea?
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic came with a lot of turmoil. Thus my team and I saw it essential that we use our skills to be a source of hope to the desolate society. COVID 19 patients suffer from difficulty in breathing. Owing to the global pandemic, there was a shortage of ventilators. Also, the ones that existed at that time were very expensive. Our ventilator would assist patients in breathing, and additionally, they are locally available and affordable. Thus we would be aiding patients in breathing as well as easing the headache of the government on attaining ventilators.
What is the current state of the Tiba vent in terms of experimentation and commercialization?
We have already attained the KEBS certificate of calibration. The next stage which we have begun is clinical trials which involve trying the machine on a patient in the hospital. After this, a report will be written which will be presented to the pharmacy and poisons board. The board will be responsible for registering TibaVent as a medical device. This will make it available commercially.
What are the biggest challenges that you and your team are facing now?
The biggest challenge is time. We have very limited time to come up with an optimal ventilator to combat COVID. This makes the learning curve very steep and sleep nowadays is a foreign word in our lips. Mechanical ventilators usually take 6 months to design, develop and test but we are forced to shorten this time because of the urgency.
You have received commendations from a lot of people including H.E President Kenyatta, how have your lives changed as a result of this breakthrough idea?
Yes. We have received a lot of support from HE the president and motivation to continue working hard on this. This has made us be more patriotic since our country cares for innovation and inventions that emerge from within.
When and where do your best ideas hit you?
Mornings, especially after devotions! I believe the spiritual world has the best ideas and all solutions to mankind’s problems. When I am faced with a hard thing to crack for example a problem that needs a rapid solution or even an algorithm to crack I usually “sleep over it” and boom more often than not I wake up with the solution. God is actually the world’s greatest Electrical engineer and definitely He has all the solutions to any engineering problem. It’s very wise to consult Him!
If I asked you to invent something, for example, 3d printing food equipment, where would you start?
Understanding the problem first so that I can get a clear picture of what exactly is needed. Then will come up with hypotheses on how to solve the problem. Then I will test these hypotheses and see if they stand. Finally, optimize the solution to make it best at a favorable cost.
What do you enjoy most and least about engineering?
My lecturer always jokingly says that God created for six days and rested for the 7 th day. He then gave engineers the mandate to continue with creation henceforth.
For example, God made the stones, engineers make the roads. God made the waves; engineers design mobile phones to use the waves. An engineer is a person who by his training applies the knowledge of science to solve societal needs through coming up with optimal solutions.
This to me is something I really enjoy. The least thing I enjoy in engineering is the “hardness” of engineering if I may put it in the best way possible. Some problems are very hard! (smiles)
What is your typical day like?
Wake up, devotion, go to the office, look at the monthly goals (contains problems to solve, skills to acquire and things to build), pick one at random; deal with the one, go to sleep!
Many people believe that studying Engineering is challenging to the point it becomes overwhelming and too much to handle. Why do you think people believe that?
Engineering is challenging but not impossible. I mean you are solving what other people call problems! It has to be challenging. But this is what makes it fun. In the university for example, we study more than 80 diverse units but the most interesting part is all these units are very practical and their applications are seen. It’s challenging but should not be overwhelming at all. It requires passion.
We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technology is at the center of everything. How ready is Kenya and Africa at large in competing at the world stage in being industrial leaders? Do we have the capacity to leapfrog the stages of growth and dominate the technology industry?
Kenya needs to believe in herself and focus on what is within our country! Being ready I am not sure, but being capable yes am very sure! In the next decade we need to be the beneficiaries and authors of this 4th Industrial Revolution and the technologies it brings.
Africa needs to come up with its own standards this time because the problems in Africa are not the same as the ones in the western world and thus we should be part of the story of the 4th Industrial Revolution. We should look at these technologies as a way to solve our problems and not a way to compete with the first world. By doing this we will benefit much from them.
For example, we could use 3D printing to build houses in Budalangi so that in cases of floods when the houses are swept down the cost incurred is not so much and rebuilding can be done within a week! This is a unique African problem! We can use blockchain in our land and housing finance ministry to prevent fake title deeds!
What was a major turning point in your life?
When I realized that I can do all things that I set my mind to! That the human mind is not limited!
If you could meet anyone living or dead, who would that be and why?
HAHA! This is a trick question! Dead-Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Isaac Newton, Living- Dr. David Ogbueli, Elon Musk- these people have taken part in shaping my passion for engineering. Some of them are a gift to an entire generation.
What do you spend too much time doing? What don’t you spend enough time doing?
Interestingly, I spend most of my time either learning or building stuff!
I remember the university had to force me to start exercising!
Would you rather go back to age 5 with everything you know now or know now everything your future self will learn?
I would rather go back to age 5 with everything I know! I will make sure I exhaust electrical engineering by 23!
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on, with absolutely no preparation?
Why its time for Africa to innovate and focus within!
Fidel Makatia is the lead inventor of the Tiba Ventilators, a final year Engineering student at Kenyatta University and student representative at Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers(IEEE), the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.