South Africa: Covid-19 Multitool Opens Communal Doors, Taps

A novel multitool designed by a University of Cape Town (UCT) electrical engineering team will make opening doors and taps much safer for communities who rely on communal facilities but are wary of COVID-19 contaminating public surfaces.

The designers and developers of the tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19 were principal investigators Dr David Oyedokun and MSc candidate Kai Goodall. The tools are 3D printed with PLA filament (a thermoplastic polyester) and are 100% biodegradable to ensure sustainability.

The Tap and Door Opener Multitool can be used to open a number of different tap and door handle types without touching any of the shared surfaces, said Dr Oyedokun. However, it's not a replacement for soap and hand sanitisers or other COVID-19 prevention measures, he cautioned.

Some 2 500 units have been produced and are being distributed in townships across South Africa, thanks to funding from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Humanitarian Activities Committee (IEEE HAC) and the Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology.

"There are a handful of IEEE COVID-19 projects around the world, and we are very proud that UCT is counted as one of the successful project hosts."

"There are a handful of IEEE COVID-19 projects around the world, and we are very proud that UCT is counted as one of the successful project hosts," said Oyedokun.

Oyedokun and Goodall were assisted by 3D-printing technician Ben Bramwell, the operator of the 3D-printing farm that mass produces the tools. Each tool takes four hours to 3D print.

"We're also grateful to UCT through the Department of Electrical Engineering for contributing generously to the project by augmenting the 3D-printing capacity with eight 3D printers," said Oyedokun.

Features and design aspects include a protective cover for the active part of the tool to reduce accidental contact or contamination while it's not in use, a protective barrier between the safe or passive part of the handle and the active part of the tool, and an ergonomic user handle with a thumb indent for added grip support. The multitool can be cleaned using soap and water.

Last month Oyedokun and Goodall donated the first batch of multitools to the Khayelitsha community through the Khayelitsha Metropolitan Police. Two community elders acted as translators to the isiXhosa-speaking community members and explained how the multitool works and how it can prevent COVID-19 spreading.

"Owen Ntsasa, the director of the Khayelitsha Metropolitan Police, was very impressed by the device and honoured that Khayelitsha was chosen as the first community for donation," said Oyedokun.

Seventy units were also donated to the station for their members to use.

Ntsasa said that the tool would be useful to the community, especially the elderly, who are at greater risk.

"I like the tool. I find it very light and easy to use."

More donations

A further donation of around 1 800 units is expected in the next few weeks, with educational videos and taps for demonstration to show community members how the device functions.

Led by postdoctoral research fellow (power system and transformer studies) Dr Hilary Chisepo, the chairperson of the IEEE Young Professionals Cape Town, a team of IEEE Young Professionals at UCT are managing the logistics of the mass distribution. They will also run a survey to gauge the impact of the tool within communities targeted for donations.

"It was even more important for [students] in their community to learn about bringing engineering designs to life."

A spin-off of this project is that the team will demonstrate 3D-printing technology, engineering design and bringing innovation to reality to Khayelitsha high school learners.

This is yet to happen, said Oyedokun. But the idea came up when they visited the Khayelitsha Metropolitan Police office.

"This was discussed on site and there was mutual agreement with all parties that in addition to members of the community benefiting from the donation, it was even more important for [students] in their community to learn about bringing engineering designs to life.

"We hope this will provide the space to allow these students to create solutions to their community's needs, develop and sustain interest in engineering."

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