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From Kiira EV to Kiira EV-SMACK

Makerere students produce an improved Kiira EV, as Kayoola takes shape

For Jonathan Kasumba, the last three years have passed like a breeze – blowing wonderful air. In this time, he has watched as a dream he held developed into the first electric car manufactured in East, Southern and Northern Africa – Kiira EV. And now he is on the cusp of even more excitement.

Kasumba, an industrial designer, has been hard at work as part of a 21-member team for over two years, fine-tuning Kiira EV’s successor, the Kiira EV SMACK, and its bigger cousin Kayoola-EV. The Kayoola EV is a 37-seater solar electric bus while the Kiira EV SMACK is a five-seater hybrid electric vehicle.

The Kiira EV SMACK is an improved version of the Kiira EV (officially known as the Kiira EV Proof of Concept -PoC). The Kiira EV SMACK addresses limitations identified in the Kiira EV PoC such as duty cycle, and seating capacity. Unlike the PoC, which only relied on its batteries, the Kiira EV SMACK is powered by a rechargeable battery bank and a generator set for propulsion and battery charging, making it a self-sustaining system.

The Kayoola solar electric bus is powered by 240 Lithium Ion cells packaged as two battery banks, one running the motor at a time. It can cover 80km before the next charge. The bus will also have a rack of solar panels on its roof, to harvest solar energy to charge the batteries.

Kasumba had to prepare the drawings for both vehicles, a task that informed the team behind the project.

“My job is to come up with the artistic designs and present them to the whole team, before we can start the hard technical work,” the soft-spoken Kasumba says.

And oftentimes, the drawings had to be refined if anyone on the team thought of an innovation that they wanted included on the vehicles. One such redesign was inspired after a presentation by students from St Mary’s College Kisubi, who presented a robot model of a Smart Hybrid Car at the 2012 Science and Technology Innovations Challenge at Makerere University.

The students were concerned that the Kiira EV PoC would become a challenging concept to adopt given its range limitations. Kiira EV PoC takes about four hours to charge fully then hit the road for 80km, before going for another full charge. So, a journey of 160km would take nearly six hours to accomplish.

The students had interesting ideas, and as such were invited by the project to participate in the development of the Kiira EV hybrid. This was part of the initiative by the project to offer hands-on internship opportunities to the younger generation of budding science and technology innovators.

An excited Kasumba has been struggling with his emotions. Used to hearing from others, he is economical with his own views on the design. “We wanted a vehicle that would be hard to ignore – so we went for a very bold in-your-face kind of design,” he says.

Team behind vehicles

The high-powered engineering team developing the Kiira EV SMACK is comprised of Prof Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa, Paul Isaac Musasizi, Albert Akovuku, Arthur Tumusiime Asiimwe and Vanessa Nakalanzi in management side.

The others are Pauline Korukundo, Doreen Orishaba, Victor Tumwine, Dennis Kibalama and Asaba Emmanuel Busobozi, who comprise the Vehicle Electronics and Information Systems team; Fred Matovu, Africa Junior, Edgar Mugabi and Mwesigwa Enock Treasure who are part of the Powertrain and Charging Infrastructure team; Jonathan Kasumba, James Byansi and Nakimuli Thatcher Mpanga, who are part of Industrial Design team; and Brian Kaweesa, Ian John Kavuma, Patience Petua Bukirwa and Moses Muyanja, who make the Mechanical Engineering team.

The Project is also working with local industries such as Specialised Welding Services for chassis fabrication and support for mechanical systems integration from Makerere’s Regional Industrial Parks Projects (CRIPPs) garage in the college of Engineering and Design, Art and Technology, under the leadership of Dr Joseph Byaruhanga and Engineer Peter Luyima, working with a team of mechanics including Moses Kalule and Bosco Ssali, among others.

Planned production

The Kiira EV project is a Research and Development intervention by the Makerere University Centre for Research in Transportation Technologies (CRTT). The Kiira EV Project is a five-year project for the period 2012-2017 aimed at establishing the pioneer Automotive Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) in East Africa - the Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC).

According to Musasizi, the government has committed Shs 154bn over the five years for this cause. KMC is to be housed on a 100-acre estate at the Uganda Investment Authority Jinja Industrial and Business park with state-of-the-art facilities for engineering, production (with anticipated capacity of five cars per eight-hour shift), corporate affairs and whole vehicle validation.

Although it is still early to confirm, there have been preliminary discussions with some established motor manufacturers for collaborations in developing the Kiira line of vehicles in Jinja, in the long run. Prof Sandy-Stevens Tickodri-Togboa adds that the project is intended to champion eco-friendly transportation solutions for Africa.

“This idea was inspired by Makerere’s participation in the 2006-2008 Vehicle Design Summit 2.0, which was headed by the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT],” Tickodri-Togboa recalls.

“Makerere University was the only African participant and we were the lead team in the development of Power Electronics and Data Networking of the Vision 200 prototype. From there we went on to develop our own vehicle.”

The Kiira EV PoC, later launched by President Museveni on November 24, 2011, has spurred the team to greater growth. Tickodri-Togboa, aware of the criticism that came with the introduction of Kiira EV, says sceptics will be impressed with the next designs.

“[Kiira EV] was a proof of concept, meaning that we were able to get the idea off the paper and into action, now we intend to showcase a vehicle that will transform the transport sector in Africa and across the world.”

Final touches

When we visited, the team was making a final fit on the Kiira EV SMACK’s body before the interior furnishing is reinstated and the car subjected to a punishing road test in the weeks ahead.

“We intend to subject the car to a cocktail of tests to validate the realization against the prescribed specifications and design targets,” Musasizi told us.

He added that once the team is satisfied with the test results, the car would be ready for unveiling. The bus will also be subjected to road tests after completion of its body development.

“Yes we are likely to have two new vehicles come out this year … but the five-seater will be out first, followed a few weeks later by the bus,” Musasizi explains.


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