South Africa’s economy will be sustainable if more technical expertise is available in addition to other elements of labour, says University of the Witwatersrand School of Electrical and Information Engineering head professor Fambirai Takawira.
“South Africa, as a developing nation, needs infrastructure, services and pro- cesses to be put in place. Without engineering, we will struggle to develop these aspects,” he tells Engineering News.
The School of Electrical and Information Engineering is focused on renewable- energy sources, electrical energy conversion, intelligent energy systems, load identification and understanding usage text and condition monitoring, explains Takawira.
All these areas were highlighted by projects at the school’s yearly open day in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, last month, where current undergraduate and postgraduate research projects in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering were also on display.
Several groups displayed their projects, each having had seven weeks in which to complete the project.
Student software developer Damian Hinch says that he and student algorithm designer Joseph Penn designed and manufactured a global positioning system (GPS) that uses a credit card-size, Linux-based com- puter with a seven-inch touch screen.
The aim of their project is to deliver accurate positioning, within 1 m, using a consumer-grade GPS priced at about R2 000, as high-precision GPSes can sometimes cost more than R50 000, which is too expensive for some applications, such as vehicle tracking or explosives placement in the open-cast mining industry.
The system uses trigonometric beacons, which provide accurate GPS readings and have been set up in known locations by the South African government. “The beacons broadcast corrections, which we can apply to our measured positions to acquire accurate coordinates,” says Hinch.
He adds that a government department has approached the team, requesting a low-cost, handheld GPS. If the government orders a significant number of these GPSes, the students have the capacity to go into production if they are given the go-ahead.
Motor Vehicle Accident Detection
Student software developers Ariel Shapiro and Daniel Goldberg have developed an Android application that can detect a motor vehicle accident.
In addition to the application, the pair also developed a website that provides the medical and personal details of those who have the application, as well as the GPS coordinates of the accident, which are sent to a remote server.
Shapiro highlights that, in the case of an accident, emergency services can respond immediately and have access to all the information they need to treat victims at the scene.
Although similar products like this do exist, Shapiro notes, the smartphone application is an original idea. The practical implementation did, however, present a challenge, as smartphone hardware and software are not ideally conducive to accident detection.
Further, he adds, for the application to become commercialised, an agreement needs to be reached with medical services in South Africa to integrate the application with the dispatch system of Netcare 911, for example.
“Statistically, the average emergency dispatch time is five minutes. If that time is reduced to two minutes, 15% of car accident fatalities can be prevented,” adds Shapiro.