The Disruptive Thinkers Adding a Touch of Tech to COVID-19 Safety Measures


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of change, change that we still feel in our daily lives. After the lockdown phase of the pandemic, we gradually adapted to a hybrid world of virtual and in-person interactions. For us here at the University, this meant students and staff getting back to campus on a part time basis to protect ourselves.

So, we wore masks and took temperatures at every entry point. We even set up a tent where staff and students would check in, document their recent activities and any symptoms of concern. The system worked, but it wasn’t particularly convenient. In a pre-pandemic world, you could be running a few minutes late for a class and still make it in time. With the COVID safety measures, there was no room for the occasional alarm snooze followed by a panicked rush out of the house. In fact, to make it on time for a class, CAT or exam, you had to budget additional time to compensate for the check-in process.

If nothing else, the pandemic was disruptive, countered only by equally disruptive thinkers.

The IoT Based Solution

For Jafer Abdikadir and Amen Gemeda, soon to be graduates of the Informatics and Computer Science programme, the COVID-19 protocol directly affected their student experience. The long screening process and repetitive questions was a sore spot for a group of students already adjusting to the new way of things. Was there a way to get to class on time without losing precious sleep time in the morning? A way to collect data so badly needed to track the pandemic without repeating the same questions over and over? And finally, was there a way to mobilize and present this data in a way that the statistics could be easily analyzed.

The answer? Yes, of course, and in the form of a mandatory fourth year computer science project.

“When you look for problems, you  find them,” the young innovators said, echoing the sentiments of decades of frustrated students. In truth though, problems in need of solutions are all around. Jafer and Amen found that when they looked around, into their weekly school routine, a problem was looking them right in the face. So they got to work to bring the solution we didn’t even know we needed.

The main problem, they realized, was that the system in place was redundant and the data collected could not be shared with the Ministry of Health easily. The analog paper and pen system was taking up extra time and resources. So why not automate and digitize? Their solution was a simple 3-step process that not only reduced the time taken, but also the contact that was furthering the spread of the virus.

Step 1: An application that contains all your details as a student or member of staff. This web based application could be downloaded on mobile devices and an account created that stored your data day to day. On your way to campus, it would be a simple process of logging in and answering four ‘Yes or No’ questions about your movement in the recent past and any relevant symptoms that could indicate COVID. In the application, users update their information and submit screening data daily.

Step 2: Facial recognition and temperature software. With all the details filled into the app, another checkpoint would often be security checks against student or staff ID. This is a process that can lead to long lines at the busier checkpoints, significantly reducing the likelihood of social distancing. To counter this, Jafer and Amen included a facial recognition station with built in temperature sensors which collected all the data onto the same web application.

Step 3: Data collection and presentation. For the University administration, an ongoing struggle was the processing of handwritten data and its presentation to the Ministry of Health had it ever been requisitioned. With all the data compiled on the app, the admin would be able to access and process it with ease. Not only that, the information could be presented in graphs and pie charts for easy sharing and reading. As an added advantage, it would become easier to identify the busier entry points and allocate resources accordingly to avoid crowding.

A simple, innovative and transformative project.

The IT Hall of Fame

For a lot of fourth year students, juggling it all is nerve wracking. It was no different for Amen and Jafer. Attending classes, keeping their grades up, working on their project while still maintaining a healthy social life was no walk in the park. Luckily they worked well together, and their hard work paid off in ways they had not anticipated.

Encouraged by their supervisor and lecturer, Stanslaus Mwongela, they submitted the abstract for their research paper for the 2022 IST Africa conference. Not having high hopes of it being accepted, they carried on with their coursework and were shocked and excited when they got the call that the abstract had been accepted and they could proceed to write the paper. After that, it was weeks of late nights writing the paper as per IST guidelines and getting it submitted on time. Three or four nights a week, they got together till well past 10pm writing and rewriting until it was perfect – all while sitting their exams. Exhausted at the end of it, they submitted and hoped for the best. Three months later, great news! They would present their paper at the 2022 conference.

The icing on the cake, the oscars – their paper, ‘An IoT Based Web Application for Tracking and Managing Covid-19 Related Data. A Case of Kenyan Learning Institutions’ was submitted, approved and published on IEEE Xplore. IEEE is an organization that inspires a global community through highly-cited publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and educational activities. It was an induction into the IT hall of fame.

Testing… testing 

Riding on the approval of their peers across the globe, the two researchers approached the University Secretary, Anthony Kahindi, to pitch their idea. The two were not new to the University, having had previous projects implemented on campus. They had previously developed an approval and tracking system for the Strathmore University Business School procurement process, a system that is still in use. And the genius idea to place QR codes in all the bathrooms around campus, believe it or not, came from the same brilliant brains. The QR code system allows staff and students to provide real time feedback on the cleanliness and maintenance of different washroom facilities. It provides the exact location to the administration, allowing them to respond quickly and accordingly. They were given the greenlight to test out their latest idea.

Working with the ICT department, they got their system hosted and tested it out on their fellow techies – their classmates. They received a lot of technical questions on the code used and the practical use of the application. The technology stack used to realize the solution includes PHP, JavaScript, MySQL, CSS, HTML, Arduino IDE, and Azure’s Face API. The devices used in the IoT interface are the ESP8266 microcontroller and GY-906 MLX90614ESF Sensor. Beyond that, their classmates reaffirmed that this was a good solution to a very real pain point.

What is the future of this research? Because of the dynamic nature of the system, it can be adapted to collect data for other diseases, but hopefully not another pandemic. It can also be used for day to day administrative tasks; entry and exit of staff and students, the busier entry points and the resources needed to support the on-ground teams.

Even as Jafer and Amen anticipate graduation in June 2023, they retain the rights to the web based application. With the backing of the University’s credibility, there is no limit to how far they can scale it.


Read the paper here.


This article was written by Celia Kinuthia. 

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