Author: Rosina Norton

“WHAT’S MISSING? Just a sprinkle of inspiration…”

The meetup gathered a diverse audience curious to learn about NI products and services. Photo credit: iHub Photography

The meetup gathered a diverse audience curious to learn about NI products and services. Photo credit: iHub Photography

Friday evening in Nairobi and the city was bustling with expectancy for the weekend. However, over in the iHub headquarters, there was a different type of excitement in the air - National Instruments (NI) Negawatt Meetup was about to take place. Now that the Negawatt Challenge statements have been clearly defined, developers, entrepreneurs and energy experts of Nairobi have been itching to get started. The chance to solve real-life energy issues by implementing technically informed and innovative visions is a challenge one cannot refuse. That said, we all know that a little inspiration and direction are key to igniting those first sparks of ingenuity.

Introducing Rudi Ngnepi, our host for the evening. Rudi Ngnepi is an R&D group manager in the Global Engineering Services organization at National Instruments and a team member of the Planet NI Program. National instruments is an official Terawatt sponsor of the Negawatt Challenge in all participating cities; the company has been enabling engineers and scientists to create and innovate new products and services since 1976. Their Planet NI Program aims to empower engineers in emerging economies through access to NI technology.

Rudi challenged the audience almost immediately with the question “What’s Missing?” What were the citizens of Nairobi missing that was stopping them from winning the Negawatt Challenge? Shy murmurs rippled through the audience as individuals were hesitant to answer. In response, Rudi dove head first into an impassioned reasoning behind NI’s involvement and their pledge to support the successful teams. A short introduction to successful tech start-ups reiterated the key ingredients: Experiment, Fail, Learn, Repeat. Part of NI’s support would include access to their LabView software and associated firmware as well as their mentorship. LabView is an intuitive software which allows the user to code by using graphics and integrate the program seamlessly with the designated hardware. Rather than having to spend time on perfecting code and battling with user interfaces, LabView allows the user to prototype rapidly and most importantly, get past that first fail as quickly as possible. And to put his money where his mouth is, several impressive applications were demonstrated (including a solution to the classic inverted pendulum challenge and a remote energy management system developed in just 3 days by one of the participants), the audience were hooked.  

Any developer or engineer can appreciate the potential of such software and this clearly resonated with the group. When Rudi asked once more “What’s missing?”, rather than the previous shy murmurs, excited waves propagated through the audience. Questions came flooding in and you could almost hear the idea generating gears start-up in all the inspired minds! As the evening wrapped up, attendees were naturally coalescing and ideas were ricocheting around the room. On leaving, I took a mental note of the atmosphere. If that was just beginning, then this weekend - The Negawatt Weekend at @iBizAfrica - Strathmore University - could be revolutionary!


Left: Rudi Ngnepi presents NI technology. Right: Bobb Afwata from Kenyatta University (Kenya) is demonstrating a remote energy management system he developed in just 3 days. Photo credit: iHub Photography


About the Author: Rosina Norton is a physicist turned energy engineer, who is inspired by the creative and innovative ways science and technology can improve energy generation and consumption. Having completed her Masters in Physics in 2013, Rosina has since worked in the Wind and Solar industry and is currently with African Solar Designs Ltd in Nairobi as a project engineer and consultant. She is also a member of Lightyear Foundation, a charity encouraging hands-on, practical science education in Ghana.