Student gains instant fame for robotic crane

By Lindile Sifile Time of article published Jan 22, 2018

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A talented young Soweto man hopes the instant fame gained from a miniature robotic crane he built using scrap translates to a fortune.

Mpho Makutu, 20, became the talk of social media after a one-minute video clip of him demonstrating his creation featured on the Facebook page of popular international video blogger Nuseir Yassin.

Yassin, who goes by the name Nas Daily on social media, had spotted Makutu outside the Soweto tourist spot Sakhumzi Restaurant last month and shot a video of his work. The clip has since had more than 6 million views on Facebook.

“Wow, I wasn’t aware I was that famous. I only spent about three hours with him (Yassin) and he promised to get me some support through the internet, but I didn’t think that so many people would be interested in something created by a person like me,” said Makutu.

In the video, Yassin says Makutu would have been working for Google if he lived in the US. “I met him as I was walking down the street. And I was talking to my friends about how they think this area is so dangerous and there is not much opportunity.

"Then I see that guy, and I’m like wow. There is talent, but there is no ability to showcase the talent. So I had to make that video about him.”

Makutu’s work of art - a red robotic crane which weighs 12kg and stands 2 metres tall - is made of various components, such as drills from old motors, planks, coat hanger wire, cardboard, sheeting of soft drink cans and a roll-on lid.

The four motors control the crane’s movements, including the jib, which lift small items with its winch. Like a real construction crane, Makutu’s machine is capable of making a 360-degree manoeuvre.

His crane has a wired remote control equipped with seven levers powered by a small elevator battery.

Makutu still needs three more motors and wheels to make his invention fully mobile.

INVENTOR: Mpho Makutu is hoping his invention will garner much attention. Picture: Itumeleng English/ANA

He built the crane in September and it took him two weeks to complete it.

The project included sleepless nights while doing his school work as a student for an Automotive Repairs and Maintenance qualification at Molapo College.

Mukutu comes from a poverty-stricken family in Ga-Maja Kopermyn Village near Polokwane, Limpopo and has been renting a humble backroom in Moroka North, Soweto for the past two years.

He started making remote-controlled toy cars when he was in Grade 5.

“When I matriculated in 2015, Johannesburg was the only place where I could pursue my dream of being an inventor. I love robotics, but people back home did not understand me,” said Makutu.

In Soweto he initially lived with a family friend, but his stay was short-lived when the “uncle” started demanding rent. Makutu had to move out as his immediate family could not afford this.

“I had to find other ways to make a living so that I could afford my own accommodation and that’s when I made the miniature electric BMW. I would take to popular spots around Soweto for demonstrations, and people would pay me.

"The money was not enough because people had become used to seeing home-built toy cars,” said Makutu.

The crane was the only way he could make an impression.

“I wanted something big that would stun people, and it did just that. I’m making a living out it. It feeds me but I still want to do bigger things, but I’m struggling to get material. My dream is to get a workshop where I can create inventions that will change and simplify people’s lives,” said Makutu.


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