September 23, 2019

Meeting Alice

Two St Jude’s students introduce their new invention - Alice, the home optimisation system.

'Welcome to our project, says Stephen, gesturing with a smile towards a table showcasing his science project: a computer and a model of a house. 'It's known as 'Alice', the home optimisation system. 

Stephen is standing next to his co-creator, friend and fellow Form 4 student, John. The pair, who have worked on projects together since primary school, recently won the Perpetual Trophy for innovation, awarded by Young Scientists Tanzania, for the project they developed for this years' St Jude's Science Fair.

'We researched the problems facing Tanzania, says Stephen, 17. 'So we thought of security problems - people breaking into homes.

The annual Science Fair is a unique opportunity for students to innovate, experiment and get hands on experience with developing an invention from scratch.

This year was the ninth Science Fair for St Jude's, where students present science-based projects that can impact the community. The Fair is attended by over 1,000 students, as well as staff, visitors, and students from nearby government schools.

'We are always doing projects to help our society and community, says John, 18, who mainly worked on the hardware for Alice. 'We really want to improve the security systems available in our country.

Alice is composed of three modules: security, home automation, and personal assistance.

How it’s done: Stephen explaining how Alice works.
How it’s done: Stephen explaining how Alice works.

'Let's start with security, says Stephen, sitting down next to the house model, and pointing towards a mini-camera that is located above the house

The mini-camera begins scanning the area in front of the gate, using light and motion sensors.

'When anybody comes near your house, the camera picks it up and triggers an alarm inside the house, says Stephen, who worked on the programming for the project.

The gate itself has a knocking system, which allows the owner of the house to encode a specific knock sequence.

'If somebody knocks the correct pattern, says Stephen. 'The gate will open automatically.

The next feature of Alice is the home automation system, which consists of a solar panel tracker that sits on the roof, tracking the sun in order to charge the system.

'This can be used not just in houses, says John, 'but also in public buildings - in hotels, hospitals or supermarkets.

Alice in action: The prototype for Alice, the home optimization system.
Alice in action: The prototype for Alice, the home optimization system.

The final part of Alice is the personal assistance component.

'This will help you control everything in the house using voice command, says John, prodding Stephen to show an example.

Leaning towards the computer, Stephens says - 'Alice, play music.

The computer responds instantly.

'Please specify your type of music, replies a cool female, robotic voice.

'Alice, play bongo flava music, says Stephen, selecting a popular genre of Tanzanian hip hop.

After a slight pause, the sound of a raft of instruments with Swahili vocals fills the room.

Stephen and John first came up with the concept of Alice last November and began putting it together with the goal of presenting it at the St Jude's Science Fair in March of this year. 

The two teenagers would find time to work on Alice during the week at Mr Dennis' Programming Club and even on weekends.

Science Day celebration: John and Stephen with their trophy.
Science Day celebration: John and Stephen with their trophy.

'Being at St Jude's you get exposed to different people and different experiences, says John. 'You get to share ideas. St Jude's provided us with the 'Raspberry Pi board', (a small, single board computer developed in the United Kingdom that converts spoken words to text via a 'speech to text engine' known as TTS), when we were developing our project.

Because of the resources and support provided by St Jude's, the two students, in addition to winning their award, were also able to present Alice to the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and have plans to develop their prototype further.

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