In the summer of 1997, just around the time of our Primary School Leaving Certificate exams, me and my buddy, Victor hung out together frequently on weekends. Like many of such trips at the time, we were trying to test some new inventions we had crafted. To be brutally apt, Victor was pretty much the brain behind those inventions. He always had a knack for tinkering with and designing electronic devices that were so uncanny it left everyone in awe. Not exactly the prodigy in schoolwork, which my teachers were wont to claim I was at the time, Victor’s extracurricular dealing, and especially his resourcefulness when it came to appliances was quite extraordinary.
I remember a certain afternoon we were at my house to test a water heater we had made from tin cans of milk – some contraption formed out of conjoining two different sets of cans via conducting wires ringed through a pair of holes punctured at adjacent positions on both cans. The can with the smaller diameter was inserted inside the other and the connecting wires intricately extended into a plug head. My folks weren’t home that afternoon. But the lady who lived next door was and she was breathing down our necks, regaling me with threats of how she was going to rat me out to my dad. We were scared shitless, and I’m not sure what scared us more – a lot of things going wrong with the testing (including us getting electrocuted), or what would happen if my neighbor ratted us out to my dad and it rubbed him wrong. We went ahead anyway. The testing proved a success, as many other subsequent tests for other inventions proved later on.
It’s important to note that we didn’t really work on anything that was groundbreaking in nature, water heaters, antennas, and TV signal boosters and basically just tinkering with devices that were available to us at the time – not so terribly important stuff. We were just a bunch of curious ten-year-olds laden with dreams bordering on extremely ambitious for the little town we resided in at the time.
By senior high, Victor had gone on to work on an amplifier he was building from scratch which he hoped to use in our school chapel at the time. My participation in the tinkering had progressively waned but he kept on strong becoming an expert of some sort, the go-to guy for fixing electronic devices. He never did finish work on that amplifier though.
I had recently returned from the NYSC Orientation Camp and spent much of the holiday season indoors to regain myself. On the week before Christmas Victor came to visit me. We had barely seen each other all year so there was a lot of catching up to do. Dinner was almost ready and we sat on the balcony regaling each other with tales and dreams. It didn’t take long before the talk of what to work on next – something that would really matter – formed the bulk of our conversation. While we bantered over ideas, the water tank in the next compound opposite my house overflowed and water seeped from beneath their gate onto the street. Seeing that was a tad irritating, like a splinter in my mind. We bantered a bit about that and then I asked how come we didn’t already have a device to control the entire process of pumping water such that the machine gets to automatically stop when the tank filled up and start itself when the tank emptied out. We pondered in silence a bit and Victor came up with a solution, using the analogy of the water system toilet tank mechanism to explain that it was possible to implement the same theory (with a little tweaking) on the tank of water pump machines if we could build a device to control the machine and the entire process.
Light bulbs were instantaneously lighting up in our heads by the time we sat at dinner. We were discussing/analyzing everything from related engineering design, sensors for the tank to electronic specifications required to build the device. Before bedtime, we’d agreed that it was doable. Victor was positive he could build it and was going to procure the instruments required so he could start building the device by the weekend. We didn’t yet know what to call it.
We went scouting the next morning for instruments and placed orders for the ones we couldn’t get that day. Within the next week, a prototype was ready for a test run. By dawn on January 2, 2013, I was on a bus heading to the east to resume at my place of primary assignment for my service year. I had feared my absence may stymie the progress we’d made on the device, but Victor soldiered on and perfected the device after doing some remodeling on the prototype. We kept the channels of communication open via WhatsApp and calls. We would analyze and figure out a way to surmount challenges that crept up and Victor would tinker some more.
By June 2013, after having successfully installed the device in two locations, an opening came up to feature the device at the famed morning television show – “This Morning on ITV” on ITV Benin. Sunny Duke, the show’s anchor/producer, had heard of the device and wanted to have Victor on the show to talk about the device. I was 500 miles away so I was going to miss the opportunity to be there. After our chat on the night before the show we had just one little thorny issue left to resolve: we still hadn’t named the device. Naming a product can be a pain. We had a few options to work with but by morning we settled on the name that seemed more apt – Auto Hydrogauge. The name went up on the screen on live TV and Victor talked about the device. From the reports and pictures I got later that evening, it finally dawned on me. We had made something that mattered.
The TV interview/exhibition is in the distant past now and we’ve forged on to try to make the device more mainstream and marketable. We formed and registered a tech company, Royallabs Technologies, to incorporate the AHG project along with the others we have in the offing. The present goal is to develop a business strategy to put the AHG out there in the open and make it a viable, profitable product. Neither of us currently has the sufficient business acumen required yet but we’re pushing. We have a few requests pending at the moment in Benin and there’s a pretty big exhibition coming up in a few weeks at an event were a lot of people – potential clients, we hope – would be present. Word of mouth is currently what’s driving the publicity.
The Road Ahead
When we first hatched the idea for the AHG on my balcony two Christmases ago we just wanted to do something that mattered, something that affected people’s lives for good on a large scale. We believe, with this product, we have achieved that. We understand of course that there may be other devices elsewhere in the world that do what the AHG does, but we believe we’ve made something totally homegrown and new in this part of the world. What’s more? It’s as effective and impactful as it is ingenious. We believe it’ll make life a lot easier.
The next point of action involves getting it out there for more people to be aware of. Maybe what we need is an angel investor to make an investment that’ll push this product properly and build a fitting business model around it. Hopefully, that comes soon enough and we can set off to work on other projects. Until then, every resource available – friends, social media, word of mouth, etc – comes in handy in promoting the product.
We can’t really say for now how it’ll go with the AHG project if it’ll prove profitable or not. It’s still trying to go mainstream yet. But with Royallabs Technologies, and the repertoire of projects waiting in line to get the nod, Victor and I have finally incorporated an idea we nursed over a decade ago to build devices that makes people’s lives easier. And the Auto Hyrogauge is a good start.
For more details on the Auto Hydrogauge and other engineering projects I’m involved in, please check out the Royallabs Technologies Facebook page.