I have a dream that one day I will be “driven” by an African car, designed, manufactured and owned by an African. Elon Musk almost made this dream a reality with the Tesla car.
The problem is, although Elon is known to be a South African, none of his products have anything to do with this continent. And so the dreams go on.
But there is a glimmer of hope.
In Namibia’s Polytechnic University, a group of students were led by an Italian designer in building an electronic car.
They started small, using limited resources and every tool at their disposal. By the end, they had developed a concept African electric car.
In South Africa, the government tried to develop an African car. Their attempts came up with what we know today as the Joule. The car did not make it for the market. However, the intellectual property behind the car is being utilised by the uYilo Mobility programme at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University of Technology to further develop the electronic vehicle industry.
This programme currently conducts various initiatives aimed at advancing e-mobility such as the eBike sharing project. It is a fleet sharing scheme using electric bicycles (eBikes) that are deployed at the university to allow staff and students the opportunity for use of intercampus transport by use of eBikes available in the fleet. This is not the only project that is currently being developed.
There is also the anti-poaching mobility vehicle designed for the safari industry. The aim of the project is to demonstrate the use of an electric vehicle on safari mobility operations.
There are also electric vehicles (EVs) provided by Imperial Green Mobility for anti-poaching programmes at the Shamwari Game Reserve. The intent is to create awareness, test performance of EVs in different roles and determine the feasibly of e-mobility for the safari industry.
So, the African car dream can still be realised. All that is needed is support for young people and academics working in African research centres.
If a group of young researchers could create a car with minimal resources, imagine what further support could achieve. The Namibian researchers who built an electric vehicle used a tablet as the dashboard for their vehicle.
This was innovation in action. More similar approaches can yield powerful results.
I believe there’s a need to pursue the African dream car. If we do, other industries will be born out of just developing a car. Such a car would need software which can provide job opportunities for local software developers. The car would need physical parts, therefore creating a need for manufacturers of such parts.
In the beginning, I mentioned my dream is to be driven in such a car. That means such a car would have to drive itself.
That fact alone is enough to drive us to develop young people who understand artificial intelligence and who will make it possible for that car to drive itself and respond to various traffic conditions.
I believe the African car dream is possible, so let’s support our technologists and researchers who are trying to make this possible.
Wesley Diphoko is the founder and chief executive of Kaya Labs, a research and development platform that is dedicated to the development of technology leaders.