Kenya’s most brilliant techie?

Even though he first got to interact with his first computer when he joined secondary school in 2013, Lewis Wanyeki, 19, was fascinated with technology. He constantly fiddled with his mother’s mobile phone, curious about how it operated.

“I dismantled several of my mother’s mobile phones in an attempt to find out how they worked,” Lewis says with a chuckle.

In form one, at St. Mary’s Boys High School in Nyeri, he met four students who, like him, were immensely interested in technology.

“One of them was already into hacking, and showed me how it is done – I fell in love with the art,” Lewis recounts

While in Form Two, he chose to study computer science, and would spend his free time in the computer laboratory learning how to crack computer systems, building apps and games. He also taught himself programming through online YouTube tutorials and the Stanford University Open Courseware, from which he learned how to use Java. He would go on to create Synk, a database architecture which enables big organisations to efficiently manage their database.

The programme, which he patented, processes queries efficiently and in a quicker manner, processesing 1,000 queries within microseconds. He started working on the app while in Form Two, and completed it in Form Three.

While in Form Three, he participated in the Kenya Science Engineering Fair, going up to national level. His group came second, and was selected to participate in the International Science Engineering Fair in South Africa. A year later, he took part in the Innovate Kenya programme, a national competition for high school students.

“My innovative idea was to build 3DS_PRISM, an innovative crime record management and analysis system that eliminates the need for paper records, and which would ease the work of law enforcement officers,” he explains, adding that if implemented on a wider scale, the system has the potential to digitise the entire security system in Kenya and in Africa.

His idea got a seed funding of $500, (Sh50,000) from Innovate Kenya, money that he used to  incorporate his company, 3DS Technologies, in Kenya and in the US. He also decided to defer college to build his company.

The company, established in 2016, provides database creation, data fusion and data analysis services to hospitals, schools, warehouses and farms in Nairobi, Nyeri and Laikipia counties.

Lewis moved to the US last year after completing high school, where he joined the Watson Institute, an incubator for young entrepreneurs in technology in Colorado.

“I am studying entrepreneurship, learning directly from seasoned entrepreneurs. I am also working with Palantir Technologies, a private company that creates technology platforms for big organisations such as the CIA, United States Department of Defense and many defense systems in Europe,” he explains.

GREATEST GAIN

The greatest gain he has reaped from working with Palantir directly, he says, is to implement 3DS_PRISM in Kenya, South East Asia, mainly in Malaysia and Bolivia in South America.

“Palantir and Oxbow Foundation have provided the funding and technology platforms to scale 3DS_PRISM to other countries in South East Asia,” he explains.

In July 2017, Lewis, together with his friends, David Vilembwa, Baraka Mwakisha and Samuel Wachira, represented Kenya in the First Global Robotics Competition in Washington DC. The four beat teams from the 106 participating countries, including the US and the UK.

“Our task was to build a robot that could separate clean water from dirty water. The robot also had to be able to do some of the tasks autonomously without any form of human control.”

He explains that it was a difficult competition because they did not have mentors, and therefore had to make do with the skills they had. His accomplishments at such a young age saw him named among 2018’s Global Teen Leaders. The award recognises young leaders who are making a positive impact in their communities. He notes,

“It was a special moment to represent Kenya globally and to interact with other teen leaders.”

This June, he will participate in the Oxford Global Challenge in the UK, where he will get another chance to showcase his innovation, 3DS_PRISM.

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