13 October 2012

Zimbabwe: 'We're Moving Towards a Robot Nation'


The Harare Institute of Technology embarked on a robotics programme to prepare and enthuse youths to science, engineering and technology programmes so that Zimbabwe can advance in science and engineering.

Our Senior Reporter Peter Matambanadzo (PM) caught up with Harare Institute of Technology Vice Chancellor Engineer Quiton Kanhukamwe (QK) to talk about robotics, a branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots and computer systems PM: What is the HIT robotics outreach programme?

This is a programme meant to expose children in rural and urban communities to science and technology by challenging them to build and design a fully automated robot. The programme is also designed to give pupils a futuristic view of the engineering and technology fields as career options, thus exposing children between nine and 16 years to science, innovation and technology.

Why did HIT embark on this project?

Zimbabwe has a lot of heavy manufacturing industries that rely much on imported machinery and components. At the same time most industrial plants and machinery and systems are designed and built outside Zimbabwe. The sophisticated systems are designed outside Zimbabwe especially the electronic systems. So this programme is meant to prepare and enthuse the youths to science, engineering and technology programmes so that Zimbabwe will have no shortage of science and engineering expertise.

At the same time, Harare Institute of Technology's mandate is technology development, transfer, incubation and commercialisation in order to bring rapid national industrialisation. And to achieve this, HIT has to recruit students with right orientation and aptitudes towards science, engineering and technology. Consequently, our programme's thrust is essentially to catch them young. In the current set, for every 10 students two are studying sciences while the remainder study either arts or commercials. In this globalised world knowledge generation in science and technology is determining losers and winners. Therefore if Zimbabwe is to flourish then a balance must be struck.

What does this project entail?

The project stimulates children to think and solve real world problems. Under a theme selected by organisers of the event pupils are tasked to be creative and innovative as well as find solutions to problems and appreciate that robots can be used in the manufacturing and other sectors of the economy.

The next step is to design and build an automated robot out of the provided kits. The kit is a tool for education consisting of various electronic components and gadgets. It is designed to inspire kids to appreciate engineering and technology. The robot has to respond to given challenges in that particular year taking safety and ergonomics considerations.

 How did you rope in the late Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education Dr Stan Mudenge who I understand was the pioneer of this programme?

QK: As he was our minister, Dr Mudenge was excited about the project as it would help pupils embrace President Mugabe's vision of embracing technology for rapid industrialisation. He therefore asked us to make it a national project that would be rolled out to all provinces. The launch and inaugural tournament was supposed to take place in Masvingo province today. Unfortunately this was not to be, however as a befitting tribute to Dr Mudenge's legacy HIT is committed to grow this project and spread it to all provinces.

People would want to know who is HIT?

HIT is a unique Zimbabwe state university whose mandate is the development, incubation, transfer and commercialisation of technology as well as producing human capital for greater national industrialisation.

Perhaps as a young university that started operating in 2005 I would dare say that it is the country's most energetic and responsive university offering high quality academic programmes to students seeking unparalleled educational opportunities and continuous professional development in science, engineering and technology fields. HIT also trains polytechnic lecturers.

What makes you different from other universities?

I would summarise it in a few statements, HIT's uniqueness lies in providing practically oriented technology degree programmes that are underpinned by technoprenuership and facilitated by the highly equipped workshops and laboratories. Our destiny is to be the stimulant of scholarship in innovation, our cause is to cultivate commitment towards technopreneurial leadership, while our calling is to commercialise technology through professionalism rooted in integrity.

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