As TRATECH—a sort of maker faire hosted by Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana—comes to a close, Léonce Lolo Atanley, never without an Arduino in his backpack, tells Makery about his future projects as an experienced maker for Africa.
Doctor Quad doing repairs, in good hands. © Léonce Atanley
“When I was four years old, I got a remote-controlled red sports car for Christmas. I was fascinated every time I made it move, but even more curious to understand how it was possible. It left a lasting impression on me.” Léonce Atanley
From an early age, in suburban Lomé in Togo, Léonce Lolo Atanley developed an innate curiosity for geekery, hanging out in household appliance repair shops to see how things were put together, taken apart and fixed. Now 26, the young man is passionately studying electrical and electronic engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, and has labs under his skin.
Meeting with Engineer Lolo
The first time I met Léonce Atanley, at BootWoeCamp in Lomé in December 2013, I was amused by his thundering laugh, his improbable blend of French and English and his true geek attitude. Armed with a plastic bottle and Arduino boards, demonstrating his project to automatically start and stop water pumps, he was quite convincing.
“Most water supply systems in West Africa are not automatically regulated. Even at my university, there’s waste ! This project is based on Arduino and designed to help the community better manage its water, source of life.” Léonce Atanley
The second time I ran into “Engineer Lolo”, he had just traveled by bus to Burkina Faso for the Ouagalab bootcamp in June 2014—with two huge metal cases full of maker materials and equipment. And instead of sipping a Brakina in the maquis with colleagues, he preferred to calmly finish preparing his workshop for the following day: “Making your own printed circuit board”. A conscientious maker indeed.
Creativity Group + MIT Fablab Takoradi
It was during his university’s TRATECH 2013 (the equivalent of a maker faire), that Atanley discovered Creativity Group—an association created by student engineers who wanted to share skills and prototype their projects together. He was immediately adopted.
With Creativity Group, which now functions as an NGO, Atanley has participated in several competitions and continues to lead activities and experiments, including seasonal workshops to raise girls’ awareness of technology (in partnership with Waaw : Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women), sending a balloon equipped with weather sensors into the air, etc.
“The members of Creativity Group (Thanks to Samuel Amoako-Frimpong), taught me how to use Arduino, and now I confess that I can’t go without this magic board! Thank you Massimo Banzi!” Léonce Atanley
It was also through Creativity Group that in May 2013, Atanley stepped into MIT Ghana Fablab in Takoradi, in the south of the country, to prototype DoctorQuad—a drone designed to bring medicine to remote villages—and work on a DIY solar panel system, Arduino-based robots, etc.
For TRATECH 2015, organized by his university, Atanley chose to focus his projects on teaching students the importance of effectively managing electricity. It’s a real problem, even at the MIT Fablab at Takoradi, which must share its generator with the restaurant across the street, and so goes without electricity several times a week. And digital machines don’t work without power… so “Engineer Lolo” made several prototypes, including an automatic lighting system that turns on only when it senses human presence, a sound amplifier, a bluetooth remote-controllable installation via smartphone application.
All these projects were developed at low cost, fabricated locally, intended to show students potential solutions contained in the toolbox of a decently equipped maker.
MicroP-lab: a bedroom lab
“MicroP-lab is a childroom dream, to have a room in which to invent and fabricate machines that improve people’s everyday lives. Micro-Projects for people!” Léonce Atanley
Atanley finds inspiration by observing everyday life around him. Among his ongoing projects are the fabrication of 1001 solar-powered FM radios to distribute in villages that are cut off from national news information, as well as an automatic system to remind people of appointments at medical establishmets in the region. Once the tests are validated, prototypes will be installed at the Autel d’Elie Clinic in Lomé.