KZN teen prodigy to take self-driving solar car to international stage

KZN teen prodigy to take self-driving solar car to international stage

A teenager from rural KZN is about to take the world by storm with his self-driving solar car.

Sqiniseko Mpontshane
Supplied by Eskom

Sqiniseko Mpontshane, a 19-year-old innovator from the rural outskirts of Jozini, KwaZulu-Natal, is about to take the international science scene by storm. 

Next month, he'll be representing South Africa at the prestigious International Science Technology Engineering Competition in Bali, Indonesia. However, Mpontshane isn't bringing any ordinary project – he's showcasing a self-driven solar electric car with a vision for a greener, safer future.

"I am absolutely thrilled and humbled by the opportunity to represent my country at the International Science Technology Engineering Competition 2024 in Bali. This chance to showcase our country's innovation on a global stage is beyond anything I could have imagined. It's an incredible honour and I'm so excited to share our work with the world," Mphontshane told East Coast Radio.

He explained that the past few months have been spent preparing for this competition and it has been a journey of learning and experimenting. Mpontshane stated that hours upon hours have been spent refining his project, seeking advice from mentors and studying the work of past competitors. He's also spent time researching Bali and it's culture to ensure he has all he needs for the trip.

Mpontshane's invention isn't just a science fair project; it's a response to two pressing local issues: rising fuel costs and a high rate of road accidents. His car, powered by the sun and equipped with self-driving capabilities, offers a sustainable and potentially life-saving solution.

He gave us a breakdown of his project in his own words:

"My "Self-Driven Solar Electric Car" is no ordinary vehicle—it's a revolution on wheels! Imagine a car that runs entirely on the power of the sun, with solar panels on top soaking up sunlight to generate electricity for movement. What's more, it's not just environmentally friendly as an electric car, but it's also designed to reduce collisions by an impressive 40%! Equipped with self-driving technology, it has a computer inside that navigates to avoid accidents. And when it needs a charge, it's ready in just 15 minutes. This car is not just about transportation; it's about innovation that keeps us safe, saves the planet and gets us where we need to go with ease."

This isn't Mpontshane's first brush with success. In October 2023, he participated in the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, where his project won a silver medal and impressed the judges enough to earn him a high-end laptop and the Desiree Pillay Memorial Award for its innovative contribution to the transport industry.

The car itself is a marvel of technology. Solar panels capture energy to power the vehicle, while autonomous features like cameras and radar sensors enable safe navigation. His creation boasts a unique high-speed charger and a wireless trailer that follows the car autonomously, eliminating the need for a physical connection.

Mpontshane's journey hasn't been without its hurdles. Hailing from a remote area in KwaZulu-Natal presented challenges in obtaining certain components and finding sufficient information. However, with the support of his engineering, graphics and design, and maths teachers, he persevered and brought his vision to life, according to IOL.

However, his journey isn't over yet. As preparations for the competition continue, Mpontshane is also seeking support to cover some associated costs. While Eskom Expo covers a significant portion, there are still contributions he needs to make.

Looking ahead, Mpontshane's ambitions go beyond this competition. He aspires to study electrical engineering, further honing his skills to refine his creation.

In closing, the teenager had this to say to kids who want to follow in his footsteps:

"To all the kids and teens out there who dream of inventing something amazing, I want to say: don't be afraid to dream big! It all starts with curiosity. If you have an idea, no matter how small, explore it. Ask questions, read books, watch videos—there's so much knowledge out there waiting for you. And remember, failure is just a stepping stone to success. Every great inventor faced challenges, but they didn't give up. So, believe in yourself, work hard, and who knows, maybe one day you'll be standing on a stage, representing your country too!"

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Image courtesy of Eskom Expo


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