From the Magazine: Power to the people – Techies Iroye and Oghoghorie change the way we use electricity

by ‘Ifreke Inyang

Tolu Iroye

Tolu Iroye and Otejiri Oghoghorie looked at a common problem long enough, and came up with uncommon inventions

 “What drives me is when a problem has direct impact on me or people around me. I grew up in an environment with different types of problems so when I experience it, it creates a passion within me to find solutions.”- Iroye.

Tolulope Iroye is 28 years old, gifted, ambitious, and determined. He has received no formal tertiary education and has lived all his life in Nigeria. He faces the same major challenges as anyone stuck in the peculiar Nigerian situation: bad roads, inadequate electricity, insecurity of lives and property.

That’s not the end of the story. You see, instead of sitting down complaining and waiting for the government to bring about the changes that almost never come he got to work, driven by an idea, and focused on a solution. When he emerged from his work, he had created the ‘Magic Box’.

Pure magic

In January 2011, Tolulope Iroye was announced winner in the Best Use of Technology category at The Future Awards for his fascinating invention: a contraption of amazing possibilities which he calls the ‘magic box’. As the name suggests, it is a box-like device which when installed into the electrical system of a house, gives the user ability to control electrical activities using a GSM phone from anywhere in the world. The owner is now able to switch off their appliances from the office, in traffic, at a wedding, wherever (we tried this and it works).

The magic box was designed out of a need to control electrical devices wirelessly because while growing up, the Iroye household was always bothered about switching off the electric cooker and other appliances before leaving home, Tolulope explains, “also, I did not enjoy getting up from bed to switch off the fan when it got too cold,” he adds. “So I started by building a line of sight remote control which works perfectly with the fans but has limited range.’’

He first decided on using radio control frequency which gives a better coverage but was still limited to about 50 metres. Then he tried the radio frequency for a GSM modem; a more superior system with a stable operating frequency.

He faced a major challenge soon enough. Sourcing materials was a problem because most of the components he required were either not available or too expensive, more so as he was financing the project with his own personal income.

For Iroye however, necessity as mother of invention is no idle phrase; his seemingly disadvantaged environment yielding the perfect medium for his creativity.

“What drives me is when a problem has direct impact on me or people around me. I grew up in an environment with different types of problems so when I experience it, it creates a passion within me to find solutions,’’ he explains. “My family relocated to a new part of Lagos that had electricity problems and I could not watch the television for two weeks because the power was low. This situation inspired me to build a device to boost the electricity from the power company.’’  

Someone else, somewhere in Lagos also got inspired – a 24-years old young man called Jude Otejiri Oghoghorie who has a wildly fertile imagination. A natural innovator, he counts among his creations a high frequency emitting electronic pest guard that repels mosquitoes and a cell charger which works without a transformer but his most popular invention so far has been the automatic changeover device.

The changeover device automatically changes over power source from generator to regular power supply whenever it is restored by PHCN and in same instant, switches off the generator set, all within a time frame of 0.1 seconds – so that sensitive appliances like computer and television sets are not turned off during the process. The device also starts the generator whenever there is power outage – without human interference.

Inspiration to start work on the device came after his father challenged him to come up with a solution to the problem of running around and switching over at every instance of power outage, he recalls.  “Many a times, we often did not know when PHCN restored power and even when we did, we found it stressful leaving the comfort of what we were doing to change over the power source and then switch off the generator.’’ He carried out a survey and found out that many Nigerians faced the same problem especially those who reside in three-storey buildings. An idea had taken root.

The Changeover

“When I was done with the survey, my dad asked me if I could solve the problem, I promised to try my best and went to work immediately,” he continues. “My dad taught me early on how organise my work, he taught me to label any screw I unscrew from any appliance and my elder brother Paul was there for me when I needed financing to build any component.’’

He emerged with the 0.1 Second Automatic Changeover.

Despite poor financing, lack of skilled workers, and a poor marketing distribution system, he didn’t stop. “Things were not bright at first but after a long process of raising awareness and persuading some generator users to put it to the test, many have come to know about it and accept it,” he says. “Moreover, the product advertises itself whenever it performs. Many people who witness the device function usually request for theirs.”

Otejiri Oghoghorie

Oghoghorie is a 300-level student of Physics/Electronics at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, where the Vice Chancellor purchased one change-over equipment for the school’s use, Oghoghorie attended Oke-Odo High School, Lagos and obtained a diploma in Electrical Electronics at the Ife Polytechnic in Osun State.

He believes Nigeria’s power problems can only be solved when we begin to source for alternative means of power supply. He also believes in the role of the youth in helping out, “Young people can be engaged early enough by training them and making them see the gift God has put in them so they can use it to help others in their own little ways,’’ he says.

Iroye also has his prescriptions. He believes that solving Nigeria’s power problems is a long term project because of its peculiar complexities, not least of which is rampant corruption, but is also quick to point out that educating people to manage the available power and making use of energy saving equipment would benefit us infinitely. For instance, he says, “A typical electric bulb consumes about 100 watts while its energy saving equivalent averages about 15 watts. If a ban is placed on the use of electric bulbs and energy saving bulbs is encouraged, Nigeria will save about 75 per cent of power wasted on just lighting. People should learn to switch off equipment that are not in use and switch to power saving devices.’’

In Iroye’s opinion, the power experts in the country should look into generating power from sources other than hydro power, build smaller power plants to generate electricity from gas, wind and solar alternatives. He believes the economy is a fast growing one and wants to be part of those responsible for transforming Nigeria into an industrialised nation.

As these two young men continue to fight the challenges to their inventions, Oghoghorie shares a mutual dream of world domination. “My immediate future plan is to have my products used in every household in Nigeria,” he says. “I have already started selling my products and thank God, the response has been good so far. By his grace, I shall be covering other neighboring countries.’’

Now where are those venture capitalists?! Y!

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