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, processing 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 being mentored by Margaret York who is the leader of development and deployment strategy at Palantir. She was introduced to me through the Global teen program. Palantir Technologies is a private American software and services company which specializes in big data analysis for organizations all over the world including law enforcement agencies "
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.
What motivated you to design the 3DS_PRISM?
Increase in terrorism and the general lack of adequate security in Kenya. The inefficiency in law enforcement is loud – to beat crime, security officers in Kenya rely on physically chasing suspects, yet technology could trail them faster and more easily.
How does the system work?
The platform uses a customised software where data is entered into directly. This eliminates the need for paperwork and ensures that only relevant information is stored. It uses finger print identification and granular technology to ensure security at all levels.
This means that in a police station, information or details that the OCS can see or access is more than what a police officer in the same police station would have access to.
Another enhanced feature is the in-built search engine that helps law enforcement officers search information, view events and factors that lead to particular events.
Has it been tested?
Yes, in Nyeri County. In some of the police stations, it was discovered that one criminal responsible for a number of crimes kept changing his name, giving the illusion that many criminals were at work, yet he was working solo.
Currently, police officers use WhatsaApp groups to share information, which has proved to be inefficient - 3DS_PRISM would ensure that they get data directly, and in real-time.
Where do you want to take your business to in the next six months?
We are working on custom-made systems for agriculture to enable us to advice on the best time to plant. In healthcare, we have designed public health systems that are able to detect trends in disease outbreaks and tell when there is an epidemic. For instance, if it’s a cholera outbreak, data entered on the number of people affected goes into a cup and when this cup fills up, the system declares it an epidemic. We also look forward to working with non-profits to effectively manage their data.
Let’s forget about technology and talk about Lewis the teen. What time do you sleep? Do you have fun?
I must admit that I don’t sleep much. As for fun, I don’t go outside that much. I tend to spend lots of time indoors playing computer games or on my laptop, but that does not mean that I am anti-social.
Do you have mentors?
I look up to Bill Gates. I am being mentored by very brilliant professors at Stanford University and Harvard University to keep pace with emerging technologies. Peter Korewa, an associate professor and teaching assistant at Stanford and Harvard University is one of my mentors.
Do you plan to go back to school?
Yes. I am planning to do a dual-degree in Data Science and Computer Science at California Institute of Technology and Washington University. I have chosen to first concentrate on my business since there is great potential in Africa and developing countries.
You come across as very confident. Do you experience moments of anxiety?
Pitching for business and support is my worst fear, especially in a conference. I try to overcome this by practicing in front of a mirror. Initially, I suffered stage fright. I am improving.