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The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies together with the AlgoAtWork Robotics and National ICT Youth Council hosted a two day Makerthon at the RBIDZ Techno Hub in Richards Bay from 14 to 15 June 2021.

The Makerthon is an innovation challenge that provides innovators, marketers and developers with an opportunity to identify open source low-tech and inexpensive hardware solutions to enable the environment with up to date technologies. DUT students clinched first prize in the prestigious competition which included third-year ICT students, (Andile Chonco, Mpendulo Xulu, Nkosinathi Mkhonto), ICT: Advanced Diploma student, Mbali Nongalo, DUT alumnus, Sanele Doyisa, all under the helm of DUT mentor, Fanie Ndlovu, a Masters Student in Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Team mentor, Ndlovu said that the Makerthon participants grouped themselves and four teams were created. He relayed that the DUT students who were selected and the one DUT alumnus named themselves DUT Ninjas. He indicated that there were 10 DUT students who had applied to be part of the prestigious competition, and four DUT students with strong motivations were selected, along with a DUT alumnus.

Ndlovu said that the DUT Ninjas decided to look and solve COVID-19 problems in the workplace. He said that they looked at social distancing as currently workers are ignoring social distancing. He further said that they looked at contact tracing, which is when a worker tests positive, contact tracing is done by asking a positive person who he or she physically came into contact with and to also use a register.

Ndlovu conveyed that the DUT Ninjas also looked at temperature reading, saying that temperature reading alone at an entry point is not an effective way to stop the spread, as individuals may be in an incubation period and may not express any symptoms. He further relayed that to address the problems the DUT Ninjas designed a prototype, a wearable device.

In terms of social distancing, the DUT Ninjas build a prototype with ultrasonic sensors that measures distance between two objects, and if the person is less than one metre away, the device beeps. This function was built in less than 12 hours and was demonstrated to the Minister of Communications, Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and the judges. Also, in relation to contact tracing, the DUT Ninjas indicated that the device will have a unique number assigned to an employee and every device will record all devices it connects with.

“In terms of temperature, DUT Ninjas indicated that the device will also be equipped with a pulse sensor and temperature sensor. The sensors enable the device to check the heart rate of employees and temperature abnormality in real time. The wearable device will be used beyond COVID-19 to monitor other diseases. Also, the reason DUT Ninjas won was for their ability to identify a problem, present it clearly and design enough demo in less than 12 hours to demonstrate the possibility of solving the problems they identified,” said Nldovu.

The excited DUT Ninja members like Chonco, said that winning the competition was great and a lot of fun.

“My team and I knew nothing about electronics components, and being at the Makerthon gave us an opportunity to learn about them,” he said.

He also relayed that it was necessary to enter such competitions because in such competitions the students can learn things that are not taught at university.

For Xulu: “It was a great experience, in fact I believe it was such a thrilling experience, even among my group members, competing among the best is not something that you can take for granted. We did not actually come up with the mentality of being the winners of the day. Mr Fanie Ndlovu advised us to enjoy ourselves and being champions was just a surprise for us.”

Nongalo said: “The competition was challenging, we had to identify problems faced by Richards Bay industries and try to fix them using robotics of which I am not used to since I am an ICT student who solves problems using web application,” she said.

Also sharing her sentiments on the overall experience was teammate Mkhonto, who said that the competition was a wonderful experience.

“The competition itself went well and it was motivating to us. It helped me to develop my creativity and my skill sets. It also boosted my self-esteem and motivates me to
become better and more mentally strong,” he said.

Prof Sibusiso Moyo-DVC Research, Innovation and Engagement, also shared her excitement upon hearing the news of DUT Ninjas winning first prize at the Mackerthon.
“Congratulations to the team, we are so proud of them,” she said.

Pictured: Andile Chonco
Pictured: Mpendulo Xulu
Pictured: Nkosinathi Mkhonto
Pictured: Mbali Nongalo
Pictured: DUT alumni, Sanele Doyisa.
Pictured: Mentor, Fanie Ndlovu.

Waheeda Peters

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