Ukandu: The world of a prolific inventor, singer
• Seeks patent, commercialisation
From a portfolio of inventions by a young Nigerian male engineer comes one called Track Genie that is designed to automatically help able-bodied athletes avoid beating the gun at competitions.
This would now enable them to focus on the speed on the track instead of worrying about beating the gun as was the case, when in 2011, the World’s 100 metres sprint champion was disqualified for a false start.
Before Track Genie, which is now awaiting patent, was a table tennis playing/training machine, and an automatic gari fryer delivered in 2003. It was a table tennis playing/training machine; he called The Challenger and others that followed.
It is not all the time that one gets to meet inventors and these people that design things of peculiarity, even if one wants to tag along with often held saying that ‘nothing is new under the sun.’
There is always the aura of the mystic that surrounds inventors and their inventions.
One general characteristic of these humans appears to be an unending restlessness in which they dwell, always letting the fingers do something.
Eze Franklin Ukandu, Mechanical Engineering graduate of University of Benin was not any different. When the reporter walked into the waiting room where he awaited this chat to begin, his nimble fingers were up to some tweaking of models or drawings on his laptop.
Looking up at the reporter he was meeting physically, for the first time, one could see the quizzical look in his eyes. It appears to query everything around, wanting to find out something. One was not disappointed – one could not really put a finger on it, but that intelligent mien was hanging around him.
On learning that Ukandu is an engineer, one was convinced all the more that the side of the brain tied to technical intelligence would have to do with numbers. Perhaps, not in all the cases, but with inventing and designing things, there is a wedlock of numeracy and ability to deliver technical wittiness.
‘So, why are you here?’. Taking it with a smile, he appeared to rewind his life’s tape a number of years back.
“I have done a number of things from 1993/94…”
This National Youth Service period marked the beginning of this unrelenting effort at giving expression at the innate desire to create things.
For Ukandu, a piece of electro-mechanical stuff done in 1994, with the support of Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC), albeit a normal engineering challenge was like a trigger pulled.
Shell approved the sponsorship of a project, which the applicant, then an NYSC member serving in the company initiated, under the NYSC community development program. In the end, a float switch for borehole water pump automatic control was designed and manufactured by Ukandu in the SPDC West central workshop Ogunu, Delta state.
One year later, while drafting a household automated garri processing plant he had conceived, the idea to invent a ping-pong machine (a machine one can physically play table tennis with) struck him.
He began work on this in 1999 and in October 2003, unveiled a table tennis playing/training machine he called ‘His Master’s Challenger’ (the Challenger for short).
In 2004, according to him, this was aired on the NTA Abuja news on February 4, 2004. However, in his effort to get a foreign patent for it, he sent video clips of this machine in action to his friends in the Diaspora – UK and US. Things went awry as idea was stolen (copied); he lost out due to naivety, and Ukandu confessed that the appearance of such designs and equipment in different places took the bottom off his dear project.
The pains of seeing the technology he labored and developed stolen (as the internet is now flooded with ping pong machine models at various levels of development) did not discourage him and he went on and conceived in the following years a number of other novel devices.
The Track Genie
In an international meet 2011, the inventor recalls, Usain Bolt was disqualified for beating the gun as seen on TV in an event the inventor was certain Bolt would win the contest. But the new IAAF rule effective from 2010 being: ‘One false start and you are disqualified,’ did not leave a good taste in the mouth of spectators.
The agony of seeing the world’s fastest man, Ukandu’s favorite sprinter disqualified for what the athlete had no control of (reflexes), made him picture a device that would take the burden of starting well in a race away from Bolt and other athletes of the world.
With the dream device in his mind, he invented what he called the Track Genie.
According to Ukandu, Track Genie is a device, which automatically prevents able bodied athletes from beating the gun in 100m, 200m, 400m, hurdle, relay and/or any other race where stringent starting rules apply and penalties for violation are heavy, while there is the tendency to start late out of caution.
He observed that anxiety builds up in the athlete in anticipation of the blast of the gun as he knows he risks beating it in the attempt and getting disqualified by the new rule. To play safe, the only way is to delay a little in the bid not to beat the sound of the starting shot.
This is, however, an unsatisfactory alternative since the athlete, who took the risk of starting in anticipation (if his timing was right) has taken the initial lead. This is the dilemma in which athletes find themselves.
The Track Genie eliminates this dilemma by some ingenious design, which enables it constrain the athlete’s reflexes at that critical moment by subjecting them to an overriding influence, while leaving him physically free. It then triggers the clock precisely at the right time.
Just before the start therefore, the athlete is assured that it is now only on his speed that his fate depends, unlike before when uncertain of a good start, fear plagued his mind, thus breeding anxiety and all sorts of undesirable reflexes, which lead to a false or poor start.
In the unlikely event that he deliberately goes all out to beat the starting signal — signal, which no longer is the gun blast — the machine is sure to evolutionise this arm of track and field, and detects this false start.
Ukandu is also currently investigating efficient ways of converting heat directly to electricity and non-electric food preservation. Just leaving the drawing board is another device that he hopes will help save 1000 lives per annum on Nigeria’s highways.
In the works is what he calls Micro flame cooking unit — a device that will drastically reduce consumption of cooking fuel in the kitchen (by about 50 per cent). He has made the prototype of an improved toothpick, alternative ear cleaning/drying device to cotton bud, new mechanical precision measuring devices among others.
The inventor told The Guardian he has also developed some new areas in mathematics that could be incorporated in the senior secondary school curriculum. He advocates collaboration between the Ministries of Education and Science & Technology to evolve a science educational curriculum, which permits fusion of practical work and classroom theory at the foundational stage to get Nigeria’s technological structure in better shape.
Ukandu has written songs and sings as well. He composes music also. With his debut album, ‘Tribute,’ now undergoing light promotion, including a track, which pays tribute to the victims of the Malaysian MH370 aircraft that is believed to have crashed into the Indian ocean in 2014, he delves into areas of great innate wealth. He has about 14 music albums cutting across genres in demo. He says they will be prepared for production in due time.
For years, Ukandu’s works have remained in obscurity and the prolific inventor now seeks partnership with honest indigenous and foreign investors/industrialists for foreign and local patents and commercialisation of his inventions. As he cautiously treads, he wants to avoid the errors of the past that cost him the patent and commercialization of Master’s Challenger, the ping-pong player-trainer.
Ukanda hails from Abia State, where he had his primary education and secondary education in Imo State in 1986. By 1992, he had concluded his Engineering degree pursuit at the University of Benin.