“Africa is the continent with the youngest people, one full of opportunities and with an amazing amount of young talent. I am an ardent believer that this talent will drive the science and technology agenda of the future.” – Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor Cambridge University.

Decades ago, Africa rarely came to mind when considering tech and innovation, but over time, the continent has gradually and steadily grown to be the home of some of the world’s best tech advancement and innovations with countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa taking the lead.

Early this month, final year students of the University of Livingstonia in Malawi made headlines for the creation of a sensory walking stick for the blind. The stick is devised to aid visually impaired persons to move around with ease by detecting obstacles in their path when they are walking.

While it is quite easy for people to move around and identify objects around them, visually impaired people often interact with their environment with great difficulty, often dependent on the help of others. Dubbed the Smart Stick, the Malawian innovation can detect moisture, distance and light and will help the visually impaired move about without the help of others, availing them increased independence and autonomy.

“This is a breakthrough for blind people. They will no longer struggle to walk on their own as the stick will guide them wherever they go,” Tikhala Mwale, one of the student innovators, said. “We devised this stick in such a way that it uses three feelings of moisture, distance and light which enables them to automatically receive audio directions whenever they are walking even at night,” he said.

For ease of use and operation, the Smart Stick is designed to use cell batteries, which are readily available and affordable. Although it was only just unveiled at a conference and is yet to be made commercially available, the Smart Stick has been praised as one innovation that would especially help visually impaired students.

“The industry needs graduates who are valuable and ready to give solutions … This clearly demonstrates that as students who will be graduating in a few days, you are ready to help the country offer solutions to a number of challenges being faced,” said Dr Benson Chilima, Director of Health Technical Services, Ministry of Health, Malawi.

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