An innovation bug is biting hard at Karatina University

Karatina University students Moses Manji and Milda Okemwa at the institutions Innovation Hub. The duo are part of a team that has innovated an app that is designed to help motorists find available parking spaces with ease.

Photo credit: Karatina University

By Mercy Mwende

Have you ever been frustrated in a busy location trying to find parking space? Now imagine how convenient it would be if you could just book space from the comfort of your home and secure a parking area before you get to your destination.

This is what three Karatina University students are aiming to achieve with their innovation, named Swift Parking App.

The trio, Moses Manji, Milda Okemwa, and Ruth Nyambura, all of them Fourth Year students, hope to address the car parking problem in urban areas through their phone application.

When using the app, one is first required to register via an email address and a phone number before proceeding to choose a location.

The app has a database of all parking lots in a given town or city.

The user then gets a list of all parking spaces available within a kilometre radius using the Location GPS Navigation, which is also one of its features.

The GPS shows you the shortest distance from where you are. If you don’t know the exact route to the identified parking space, the GPS feature will direct you.

The database also has descriptions of each parking area, details of how many spaces are available in total, how many of them are empty at that point, how much it costs per hour and the extra amenities provided if any.

One can choose to park their vehicle for the day or reserve an area for future use. “Reserving a parking space will make a customer incur an extra expense in addition to the normal parking fee,” says Nyambura.

The next window in the app provides information about payment, indicating the online modes it provides. After making a payment, the app provides a QR code that updates the information in the system. Any data that is transferred through the QR code is encrypted, making the payment fool-proof and secure.

While exiting the parking lot, a customer can only do so after presenting the QR code to the parking officials, who scan it again to verify payment before releasing the client, Okemwa explains.

Since many parking facilities in towns and cities are privately owned, the trio hopes to depend on property owners to determine the cost of leasing parking spaces.

“We expect the prices to vary depending on the location and the extra amenities provided at the lots, like carwash services,” says Okemwa.

Their innovation also aims at eliminating brokerage services in car parking zones. It is among the various innovative ideas by students at Karatina University Innovation Hub.

The Hub aims at nurturing students’ innovative skills by giving them a platform to research and practise what they learn in class. Since its inception, students have used it to generate ideas that they can commercialise in future.

Titus Kabui is another club member who has innovated a way of controlling devices remotely via the internet. The fourth-year Bachelor of Science in Education student uses the ESP 8266 Wifi module to connect appliances at home to the internet. “This advancement in technology means that one does not have to be physically present to operate a machine or electrical appliance regardless of the distance,” he says.

The Wifi module is programmed to transfer data from a mobile phone to the connected electrical appliance using the BLYNK APP, which is also Kabui’s creation. The app has a template and a button that is used to turn electrical devices on and off, among other functions.

The innovation especially targets farmers who can use it for watering their farms remotely. Through the app, a farmer can turn a water tap on and off.

“Farmers who live away from their farms can install moisture sensors in the soil, which will alert them and monitor whether their plants are out of moisture. The programmed Wifi module will then transmit the data to the phone app to alert the farmer if the crops are out of water,” Kabui says.

As a green and entrepreneurial institution, Karatina University has integrated Innovation and entrepreneurship in its curriculum to ensure job security for its graduates.

Dr Joan Murumba, a lecturer and one of the Science, Technology and Innovations champions at the university, says the Innovation Hub is helping to make entrepreneurs out of students.

“The Hub has introduced an avenue for creative education towards solving the high unemployment rates amongst graduates (in Kenya),” she says.

To effect this, the institution has established a Directorate of Research, Innovation and Extension, which coordinates the provision of resources for university-level training, and for research. The directorate also promotes ethical research practices by the university community through the identification of grant calls and opportunities for members to get involved. It also holds seminars for both staff and students on copyright and industrial property rights.

As a result, Dr Murumba says lecturers at the institution have undergone several trainings conducted by the Kenya National Innovation Agency (Kenia), among other organisations. “The lecturers, who are drawn from all faculties, are used as innovation champions tasked with being mentors and coaches to students,” she says.

In December 2021, the institution hosted the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology and Meru University of Science and Technology at its Start-Up Expo.

The event was part of the Developing Entrepreneurial Universities in Kenya (DEPUK) project. DEPUK is a joint project of Karatina University, Chuka University, Dedan Kimathi University of Technology and Saarland University in Germany.

In the project, Germany and Saarland University take the lead role in mentoring the three Kenyan partner universities and moulding them into entrepreneurial institutions.

The Karatina University Start-up Expo provided a chance for students to pitch business ideas, and with the help of coaches and mentors, develop prototypes of their products or services from the ideation stage through to product or service delivery in the market.

Business coaches were also drawn from the universities’ entrepreneurship champions, who have undergone training at Saarland University, and also coaches from industry.

During the expo, participants formed multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional teams. The groups worked on their business ideas, with a team of judges comprising practising entrepreneurs, evaluating their performance and giving them insights on what to improve on to actualise their concepts. 

Internally, Karatina University also holds an “innovation week”, during which students from different departments showcase their projects. The institution is also carrying out awareness creation through webinars.

The university’s Research and Innovation Directorate has developed a policy that takes care of issues of copyright, in particular, patenting.

Currently, it is collaborating with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) to administer intellectual property rights to its students.

The institution has incorporated entrepreneurship into its curriculum by developing courses that nurture a business culture among students. The institution’s common course for all students is entrepreneurship.

For example, in the Department of Computer Science, the course has been customised to meet the needs of the department. Some of such units are ‘Info-preneurship’ and ‘Techno-preneurship’.

Dr Murumba says the institution is also developing a course on commercialisation of intellectual property and make it a compulsory unit.

Other successful innovations developed by Karatina University students include an app for livestreaming, a digital water meter to ensure the authenticity of water bills, and an internet-based application to support agriculture.

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