Think outside the box, but within the container 



Do you  remember to power off your computer as you leave the office at the end of the day ? Or, after working in the computer labs, do you click shut down once you’ve logged out? Every. Single. Time? 

Did you know that even when  a computer is in sleep mode, it still consumes energy until the machine shuts down? I recently discovered that if I leave my desktop in sleep mode overnight, when I get to work the next morning, it will still be powered on, and consuming electricity. 

Up until I had a conversation with Arnold Ochieng and Elisha Kiprotich,  I had never really thought too much about powering off my computer. The two are brilliant young innovators and the 2nd runners up of the Strathmore University Ideas Festival -2023. 

Their idea initially began when they tried to create a model for sustainable IT labs in rural areas. 

Elisha: We aspire to establish computer labs in rural areas, but face a challenge in terms of ensuring consistent power supply in many places. Naturally, the go-to solution is solar power. However, we’ve come to realize that computer labs tend to have substantial energy requirements, which may not be adequately met  by solar power alone. Equally, using solar power may become costly. Therefore, we’re exploring the possibility of minimising power losses in IT labs to enhance its efficiency.

Enter TBC, an automated system that shuts down idle computers. 

When computers are idle, they tend to consume a lot of power. And many times, most people forget to shut down their computers after using them. While we should all be conscious of saving power, this is more pertinent in areas where access to  power is limited- where every watt counts. This innovation shifts the onus of powering off machines after use from the human user to the computer. As internet penetration continues to grow and expand across Kenya, and in fact throughout the whole of Africa, the adoption of sustainable practices will play a critical role in achieving success. 

Q: Did you come up with the idea specifically for the Ideas Festival, or is it something you were working on before?

Elisha: The ideas festival definitely prompted us to think about it, but now that it’s done we’ve been talking about how to develop it. 

Arnold: Yeah, we’re going to make a prototype and see if we can get it working. As we were waiting for  the results from the finals, I told Elisha, ‘Bro, even if we don’t get this, we just have to make this work and see’. If it’s a viable possible venture, it could prove beneficial. Its value extends beyond merely winning the Ideas Festival; it has the potential to make a meaningful impact. 

The innovative duo had not initially intended to participate in the competition. They would see the call for submissions around campus and dismiss it. That is, until a mentor challenged them to throw their hat in the ring. Their very last minute submission turned into the number three overall winning idea. But it wasn’t an easy cruise on a sunny afternoon. Participating in the ideas festival presented unexpected challenges and immense opportunities for growth for Arnold and Elisha.

Arnold: Typically, my daily routine after school involves: getting home, taking a nap, , followed by studying, and wrapping up the day with an anime. However, during the Ideas Festival, I had  to make sure that I was constantly reading, constantly seeking out new information to enhance our idea. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a really fun experience, because each new piece of knowledge I acquired brought a sense of fulfilment. It made me realise that I’m passionate about conducting research on topics that interest me.

Elisha: When you’re younger and you start brainstorming ideas, you might think, ‘I’m going to make hover boards or fly’, but as time goes by, you might lose that creativity, that ingenuity, and you conform to the established patterns and norms. The Ideas Festival had a transformative effect on me. It possibly even awakened my inner child, inspiring me to keep creating.

Walking the tightrope of school and other aspects of life often leaves students with tight schedules that need to be managed. Elisha and Arnold would often find themselves working late into the night to refine their idea and presentation. We all know how dreaded and difficult an elevator pitch can be, I think it’s safe to say they crushed it! However, bringing the elevator pitch to life is a different matter altogether. During a conversation with their lecturer, who was present during their presentation, they began to explore the practicality of the idea. 

Elisha: After one of our presentations, he asked us more about our solution. One of the things he advised us was that we could design it in a way that would require minimal additional hardware for integration into the existing labs, thereby enhancing efficiency. Any significant expenditure to modify or introduce costly  components to existing labs  deters people from adopting the solution. Consequently, we focused on selecting hardware components that aligned to this approach, ensuring ease of  implementation and scalability.

Q: Speaking of scaling, imagine you’ve got this project off the ground, dream big; what does it look like in the future?

Arnold: I see it in every university and even high school in the country, because almost all institutions have some sort of IT infrastructure within them, or a computer lab. Internet accessibility is steadily increasing across Kenya. So, on a broader scope, in time, hopefully, you can expect to see the proliferation of such labs in different parts of the country. This model may be scaled across Africa, making it feasible to set up  IT labs wherever they are needed.

To bring the conversation with these two students of Computer Networks and Cyber Security to close , I asked the cliché, yet ever reliable question… 

Q: What advice would you give to other students who would like to participate in next year’s Ideas Festival? 

Arnold: Think outside the box, but inside the container. Come up with any idea, because ideas are boundless. However, think of how your idea  will benefit society, or the people around you. By approaching it in this manner, the ideas you generate are likely to have significant value. So take the leap of faith, dive into that river of opportunity and see how far you can swim.

Elisha: Enjoy the process. Enjoy the learning, the research, enjoy looking into the solution, even the nerves that you have just before your presentation. Just have fun. Don’t make it solely about winning the prizes, enjoy the things you learn and the people you get to meet.


This article was written by Celia Kinuthia. 

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