Sunday, 23 August 2015

Innovating with Science and Technology at Accra Science Hack Day

The first ever Accra Science Hack Day, held at iSpace in Osu on 15th and 16th August 2015, brought together students, hobbyists, technologists and science enthusiasts from different parts of Ghana. They worked individually or in teams on interesting projects, either tackling a key societal problem or just having fun with science. It was an interesting learning experience for me, even though I participated as one of the facilitators, alongside Kobe Subramaniam, Anisha Tailor and Myf Owen (from Lab_13 Ghana), and Thomas Tagoe (GH Scientific).

I was very glad to see Junior Camp Internship Programme trainee Maame Yaa Serwaa expertly manage the registration desk and provide on-site support to iSpace Community Manager, Akua Baning. Akua ensured that all aspects of the event went on smoothly.

We were welcomed to the event by JCIP & iSpace intern Maame Yaa
Most of the hackers took a bit of time to arrive at iSpace at the advertised time on Day 1, which appeared to be a slow Saturday, but when they walked in their focus and level of engagement was consistent throughout the period of the programme. I spotted a few former students of mine from my Ketasco days. Lab_13 Ghana had also registered two of the beneficiaries of their hands-on science sessions, Samuel Darko and Perkins Frimpong. The two 14-year olds are pupils of Solid Hope Basic School in the Bosumtwe District.

Kobe and I gave quick five minute lightening talks, after a brief welcome speech by Akua. I touched on citizen science as a tool for research and civic participation. I explained how the research, technology, and civic communities can come together to address challenges such as power cuts, pollution, and transport in Accra. Kobe's presentation was on innovating with micro-controller systems such as Arduino and Rapberry Pi. He used examples from Ghana and elsewhere to illustrate the ubiquity of these systems in an increasingly technological world.

The teams soon got down to business for the rest of Day 1 and most of Day 2.

Team Dumsor Automate developing their idea on Day 1
At the end of Day 2, six teams made presentations:
  1. Smart Borla: a refuse collection beam that sends signals to the collecting company when it is full
  2. QBay: uses augmented reality to engage and enhance the learning experience for students.
  3. Dumsor Automate: a system that enables remote control of electric gadget especially during power cuts
  4. SP Backpack: solar-powered backpack that enables charging of mobile devices on-the-go
  5. Secnet: a suite of online security tools
  6. Gospel Scientist: explaining biblical principles using scientific demos
  7. Linkages: an art piece depicting connections (visualise spider web) through the woldwide web.
The judges, Fiifi Baidoo (iSpace), Kobe, and Tom had the unenviable task of picking out the winners from the pack.

Before the results were announced, Tom spoke on a new Wellcome Trust funded initiative we've been cooking up for quite some time now called SHAPE (Shaping Healthy Attitudes and Protecting the Environment). This project, led by GH Scientific, is aimed at engaging Junior High School students to analyse and design solutions to environmental health challenges in Accra.

Back to the main proceedings. Everyone was excited to learn how the teams placed at the end of two days of ideation and prototyping. The third position went to Dumsor Automate, the second to Q-Bay, and quite remarkably, SP Backpack from Lab_13 Ghana placed first! The boys, who earlier won the Boatastic boat-making competition (Titanic 2015), scientists-in-residence, and everyone associated with Lab_13 were over the moon. The win validates the idea of giving learners space to experiment and discover things for themselves.

Celebrating Samuel and Perkins Credit: Lighyer Foundation Facebook page
Overall, the event (#AccraScienceHackDay) was a great one and has the potential to become a mainstay on the Ghanaian tech circuit. Its hands-on nature challenges participants to move away from just talking about problems, and fantasising about possibilities, to actually building stuff, test and receive feedback. Going forward, I would like to see earnest efforts made to sustain the various projects started. Additionally, it'd be really cool to expand the event geographically, so other regions in Ghana will benefit. Hopefully, future events will see more innovations from fields aside electronics. There is huge potential for bio-hacking and data analytics projects in our context.

Huge thanks to iSpace for bringing such a truly remarkable event to Ghana. Commendations also go to Science Hack Day, the global organisers, and EndNote for their sponsorship.

If you were to participate in a Science Hack Day event, what project would you work on?

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