Four students of the American University of Sharjah (AUS) have been chosen to showcase their innovative mechatronics engineering project titled ‘U-Light’ involving the production of low-cost electricity at the prestigious Hult Prize Competition being held next week in New York under the auspices of the United Nations.
The project, U-Light, envisions harnessing human energy to generate a simple, reliable, and affordable source of electricity. The selection of project by three students of engineering and a business management student for the prestigious Hult Prize Competition, hosted by Hult International Business School, has the whole AUS community immensely excited.
The mechatronics engineering project (mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering) seeks to find simple and affordable solutions to electricity needs of the world, especially of those living in developing and Third world countries.
When the Hult Prize Competition was announced a year or so ago, four students --mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and business majors – formed a team and a company to develop a low cost solution to energy needs of developing countries using human energy as the source.
Speaking about their brainchild, students Omar Al Khattab (mechanical engineering), Omar Mansour (chemical engineering), Ahmed Yasser (electrical engineering) and Omar Ghanem (business management), said that they are excited and honoured on being chosen for the global prize which attracts more than 100,000 entries from around the world.
The project involves producing cheap and affordable electricity using simple means like hand mechanism. It can produce enough energy for a household to light up bulbs and use it for other energy needs.
Cheap Electricity for Developing World
Sharing details about the project, engineering student Ahmed Yasser said that out of 1.2 billion people who live off the grid (without electricity), 95.5 million of them live in Nigeria alone. Kerosene which is the major source of light, in these countries is not only expensive but poses serious hazards to their health and environment. “U-Light is more affordable and safe to use. In comparison, the $17 U-Light device saves up to $200 for families that live off one dollar a day. This allows them to get more productive hours of light at no extra cost,” said Yasser.
After learning about the challenge faced by countries like Nigeria, which is about harnessing the power of energy, the team decided that the biggest impact U-Light could have is by providing light to the 1.2 billion people who still live without electricity. Yasser, studying antique mechanical clocks at the time, realised that generating light using the same concept could have a truly global impact and help more than a billion people.
However, the team faced a series of challenges including a lack of funding and other systemic issues before it could introduce the pilot project in Nigeria. “Thanks to the help of our mentors and the invaluable support we received from the AUS, which has agreed to fund our trip to New York, we have been able to overcome these challenges,” said Yasser.
Congratulating the students on their remarkable achievement, Prof Bjorn Kjerfve, Chancellor of AUS, said that four AUS graduates who are now finalists for the coveted Hult Prize are indicative of the caliber of research and students at AUS, with guidance from our top-notch faculty.
“I wish Omar Khattab, Omar Mansour, Omar Ghanem, and Ahmed Yasser the very best of success for the finals at the UN headquarters in New York on September 15. American University of Sharjah continues to deliver its research agenda, establishing research institutes and centres, preparing for several PhD programmes, and attracting the best graduate and undergraduate students from across the region and beyond,” he added.
Lauding the students’ initiative, Dr Richard Schoephoerster, Dean of College of Engineering at AUS, said that the AUS creates a conducive environment for its students to work together and come up with such innovative and ingenious projects and ideas.
“This is very much in line with the environment we want to create here at AUS. Where students are trained not only on the technical aspects, but also understand the economic impact, and social impact of what our engineers design and manufacture,” he said.
“This is a great example of the type of students we attract, the strength of our faculty expertise in technology development, and the environment and culture we create here at AUS that includes and understanding of multidisciplinary teamwork, social and sustainable global issues, and the ability to build a business around those ideas,” added Dr Schoephoerster.
Chemical engineering student Omar Mansour said the project hasn’t been easy to get to the United Nations. The first step was to win a competition in which more than 100,000 university students from around the world participate.
“After achieving the first position, we qualified for the final stage in England, where we competed with 42 teams from around the world over a period of six weeks. At that time, a lot of experts and specialists helped us develop the idea of our project. Six weeks later, six teams were selected to showcase their inventions at the UN in New York.”