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EAC Digital Pioneers – Developing digital game changers for EAC’s automotive industry

“This internship helped me to create connections and also showed me that I don't need to be an expert in a specific industry to start my job as an innovator as long as I'm willing to learn and do.” This is how CENIT@EA student Ivan Koojo looks back at his six-months internship at Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) in 2020/2021. His fellow intern, Jevinarlys Shibuyanga, adds, “I got to understand what it takes to have a successful company.”

Ivan and Jevinarlys are best practice examples of how close cooperation between academia and industry in the EAC can lead to increased job chances for graduates as well as strengthened innovation ability in the private sector due to inputs from young professionals.

To profit from this innovative potential of EAC young professionals, KMC had joined forces with the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa (CENIT@EA) which is educating young professionals from all EAC Partner States on becoming digital innovators in September 2020. KMC invited CENIT@EA Master’s students Ivan and Jevinarlys to six-months internships to develop digital technology solutions for the company’s fleet of electric buses.

Paul Isaac, KMC CEO, depicts the concept of Uganda’s biggest automobile company to develop innovations with the expertise of the up and coming generation of regional digital pioneers. “We believe in the power of engaging local young professionals to leverage their expertise in design thinking and conceptualisation of digital innovations for the region of East Africa.” In fact, with growing cities there is a need to improve public transportation through technology.

KMC’s Kayoola EVS bus – Africa's first electric vehicle – is a prime example of innovative transportation technology. To make it even more beneficial to East Africans using public transport, Ivan and Jevinarlys developed a digital system offering solutions to issues of urban mass transportation such as passenger security, traffic jams and payment issues. Tackling the risk of infectious diseases in public transport, the students worked on an Artificial Intelligence-based passenger counting and social distance analysis, electronic ticketing and cashless payments as well as a thermal imaging technology for automatic onboard temperature measurement of passengers. This way, public transport can become safer for East Africans in times of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Being asked how their innovations will contribute to transforming Africa’s automobile industry, Jevinarlys points out, “With my innovation, efficiency and productivity in the automobile industry will be strengthened. This will translate to a better business environment in the automobile sector and the transport sector overall.” Ivan adds, “With the improved Passenger Security System and the Passenger Experience System in general, we demonstrate that players in the automotive industry in East Africa can leverage existing technologies to serve their customers better.”

And it is true. The digital solutions developed by Ivan and Jevinarlys have the potential to transform public transit in East Africa.

The CENIT@EA Master’s programme in Embedded and Mobile Systems (EMoS) surely provided Ivan and Jevinarlys with the foundation to become digital pioneers. “The Master’s content covered aspects like machine learning, mobile application development and embedded systems design development as well as testing. This made it easy for me to accomplish my tasks at KMC,” notes Ivan. But it is even more than that as Jevinarlys points out, “Also the management, innovation, and soft skills I acquired at master’s level played a big part for doing the job successfully.”

Still, this is only the start. The continued collaboration between CENIT@EA and KMC is sealed through a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to advance research and innovation in digital mobility solutions in the EAC, in line with the global automotive technology foresight for enhancing mobility safety, security, operational and energy efficiency. The partnership will comprehend applied research, guest lecturing and pilot projects, joint capacity building, co-curated seminars and conferences, and entrepreneurship promotion activities such as hackathons and bootcamps, that will involve CENIT@EA students and beneficiaries of its project.

For Ivan and Jevinarlys there could not have been a better internship host company. As Ivan clearly states, “If I had to choose an internship place again, it would definitely be KMC.” He even takes it a step further when thinking about his future, “I plan to apply for a job with KMC and work towards attaining mission vehicles made in Uganda. I also want to join hands with colleagues from my Master’s programme to build an IT service company in the near future.”

Best of luck to Ivan and Jevinarlys!

Read more on CENIT@EA here.

Read more on the cooperation between KMC and CENIT@EA here. 

Photo:  ©Ivan Kooyo & Jevinarlys Shabuyanga

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