Hacker Rewarded For Creating Electricity


[garhol] tipped us off about a self-taught hacker who brought a little light to his tiny home. [William Kamkwamba] dropped out of school because his family lacked the $80 per year for tuition. At the age of 14 he read books from the library and gained the knowledge he needed to built a 12 watt wind generator from junk parts. Wow!

We’re pretty used to hearing about creative people who end up getting punished for their hacks. Fortunately he has been rewarded for his brilliance. He’s now studying at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg with a well-deserved scholarship.

His story comes to the surface now because a book about his experiences has just been released. We need more people like this, and they should be rewarded for their efforts like he has been. We’ve put the book on our hold list at our Public Library and can’t wait to gain some knowledge from [William’s] experiences.

Check out his short talk at the TED conference, embedded after the break.[ted id=153]

[via BBC news]

60 thoughts on “Hacker Rewarded For Creating Electricity

  1. This is the kind of “Hack” that makes this Web Site such a joy to visit.

    It’s easy for the rest of us to grab spare parts lying around our homes and then make some useless piece of crap out of it.

    But, this guy has literally nothing to work with, and yet he solved a very basic need for his family. We take electricity for granite. But this young man made it a reality in a place that it doesn’t come by so easily.

    The sad thing is that he probably doesn’t even know that he was featured on this Web Site.
    Maybe his next invention will be the Internet !!!

    Oh wait, that Liberal Socialist Al Gore already beat him to it. Sorry, my bad.

    Anyway, I salute you Mugombo.
    Job well done !!!!

  2. I think we should offer him a green card, tuition, and support for engineering school. American’s need more people like him. Lots of great people out there that would like to come to America.

  3. I love how NPR and everyone else makes him out to be super incredible and special.

    Let’s ignore that everything he did, EVERYTHING was done decades ago elsewhere in the world. using old car parts and other things to make a wind electrical generator has been done over and over and over and over again. This is really old news.

    It’s a cool personal story, he taught himself English and did everything himself, but it’s not amazing, or special in any way. Waht he did not not extraordinary. The info to do what he did has been around for a very VERY long time. Hell Otherpower.com has been around for a decade and it has not only this info but how to make a “junk” wind generator that produces a whole lot more power. But magazines for self sustainability and books on the subject have been around cince the 70’s. I have one right now that was made in 1974 that gives all details on how to solar heat your home and water. Most of which can be done with junk.

  4. @farthead

    I think the circumstances make it extraordinary. Yes the info has been around, but as you can read from the story, he had to overcome great obstacles to acquire that information. Learn english and understand technical books without help. I can admire his persistence and his vision as most people in the same situation persevere as he did.

  5. @farthead, what are you talking about? I think you are missing the point of this story entirely.
    The point is NOT that he made a windmill out of junk, the point is that he did it an a poor village in Africa.
    Otherpower.com? 70’s magazines? His village didn’t have electricity let alone internet or magazines. They have more important things to worry about there, like FOOD.
    I think you need to make sure you read and understand an article before you criticize it.

  6. @farthead

    On a site of talented like minded westerners who have never really felt real need, not a big deal. In a country where you spend most of your time just finding enough to eat, impressive. Make friends with an African immigrant and ask him about it.

  7. He is co opting white Cowboy culture. Whoopty doo! How quaint that a brown person can do something with electricity, we should share it with the world so other brown people can get inspired and stop making everyone else in the world take time off from civilization to teach these people from “the cradle of civilization” to collect firewood outside of a 200 yard perimeter and to pump water. Who would have thought that most people live near green or blue areas for a reason? I fixed a tape recorder when I was 7 without books, do I get a had post? no. Arduino or gtfo.

  8. Oh, WOE is poor “Star” Simpson, “punished” for “hacking” (she put a bunch of fucking LEDs on a protoboard. They didn’t do anything except blink, together.)


    That sums up my opinion of her as a Bostonian. And by the way, that whole commercial stunt Cartoon Network did? I’m glad you all thought it was so amusing. It trapped me in a subway train with 500 of my closest friends for A FUCKING HOUR.

  9. I agree with Farthead. It is a touching personal story but beyond that not a whole lot new and exciting. I’m teaching myself spanish and am 70 percent done a complete renovation of my home upgrading all systems in it with no one teaching me how to do all the required tasks. Does that entitle me to a Uni scholarship?

    I applaud this persons efforts but its not like he found a NEW way to create electricity. He used what was available to solve a problem, good on yah and a righteous hack.

  10. Most people around here can’t take the time to type full words, or spell correctly.

    Yet this boy was able to find the effort to, not only teach himself enough of one of the most complicated natural languages around, but source enough parts(garbage) to fabricate a functioning wind generator to provide his family with light.

    He’s significant due to his circumstances, not necessarily his accomplishments. I’d like to see any of you achieve as much, with as little, while also dealing with his environment.

    Oh wait, that’s right. This is HACKADAY; the blog where the visitors who comment continually complain because they feel they aren’t being provided sufficiently interesting links. Not only can’t they source this information themselves, they can’t produce anything of worth themselves without copying somebody elses how-to. I almost forgot.

  11. @thedudefrommiamivice
    Tell me how the hell are you learning spanish?
    No, i can guess. Internet.
    Are you upgrading your house with junk?
    I can guess this one too, No.

    Do you deserve a University scholarship?

  12. Great story. I find it fascinating that people read this article and get moved by this story. The truth is people have been doing this kind of stuff for years.

    I’m a self-taught engineer as well, the only difference is i used the internet and the privilege of having electricity.

    I too have dreams of bringing free-energy to world, but most importantly developing countries and small villages.

    So this story means a lot to me. It’s good to know there’s others doing something already.

    Once William gets a laptop someone should tell him to Google “Micheal Faraday” “Nikola Tesla” “John Hutchinson”(to name a few).There’s so many self-taught engineers that influence many.

    so this goes out everyone, “keep hacking!”

  13. @farthead

    I just built a 7 foot diameter wind turbine based on the designs of the otherpower.com folks and Hugh Piggot. I was 18 when I put it up and a senior in high school. After all the crap I had to go through to complete the project I think it is truly remarkable that this man was able to complete his project with what he had available.

    I can’t imagine not having any sort of power tools or anything to work with. He clearly made the entire tower out of wood and nails. All I had to do was pick up the phone or go online to get information from experts in wind energy… I bet he was the authority on wind power in his town.

    What you’ve got here is a person with drive. He was willing to pick himself up by his own bootstraps and complete this project. That alone is admirable and a lot harder than some people might think. Congratulations to him and if there is anyway I could help, let me know.

  14. Well, I feel bad for those of you can’t see the goodness in this story. It never crossed my mind that what he did might be too common and not worth rewarding.

    What I got out of this: [William] used his brain and the few resources available to him to try and improve living conditions for his family and community. This is how great civilizations are built.

  15. Hmm, just some relativism.

    Why should WE need more of these kinds of people. WE have enough of them. It’s Africa who lacks these kinds of people. So THEY need more of them. We can’t keep sending some of us to help them. They need to learn to help themselves.

    And apparently that’s what’s happening. So it’s a good thing :).

  16. Damn good work. I agree with Patrick in that this one of the few articles that make Hackaday worth the constant flamewars.

    This guy, if nothing else, should provide you with some inspiration to get off your ass and make due with the circumstances you’re in.

    He sure as hell did and is doing probably a better job at it than any of us.

  17. @Tony “it is truly remarkable that this man was able to complete his project with what he had available”

    Before reading this article the first thing that came to mind was a car alternator.

  18. @Peter:

    Some more “relativism”: we have a bunch of, what I assume to be, like-minded individuals on this site. Some of these people are upset that this gentleman, who pursued an idea and produced something greater than the sum of it’s part using some ingenuity, a lot of hard-work, and a lot of perseverance, received a scholarship.

    Meanwhile, most of these people live in countries where scholarships are given to people who excel at things like football.

    Who is more worthy?

    Also, this “we” crap is bullshit. If “we” have enough of “them”, why do we continually face technological hurdles, medical hurdles, etc.? “We” have epidemics facing us that we can’t find solutions for, so “we” aren’t quite cutting it.

    The fact of the matter is it’s of utmost importance to have as many minds working on problems (engineering, medial, etc.) as possible. Everyone approaches situations differently depending on their background.

    It benefits everyone to have more capable people provided with the resources they require to lead successful lives.

  19. I find it shocking that people are so set in their little worlds that they can’t find this to be amazing…

    Think about it Farthead… Otherpower.com? How do you get to that page? … Oh yea with your computer… Oh he doesn’t have one of those… Well he could go to the library! Oh he doesn’t even HAVE electricity… I guess that was the point.

    When you have unlimited resources it’s pretty easy to build a wind turbine. If you have no power as it is and no formal education and you build one in the middle of Africa, then it’s impressive.

  20. People like this man make me hopeful for the future of man-kind after 95% of it is wiped out from the zombie apocalypse.

    It will be people like him who will be rebuilding civilization.

    /Those who are in denial should just go back to their Wal*Mart “power tools” isle.

  21. I think we should offer him a green card, tuition, and support for engineering school. American’s need more people like him. Lots of great people out there that would like to come to America.

    sorry perhaps i misunderstood what you meant here , but i find this sort of comment completely stupid ! why, because he had a brilliant idea, should he leave his country and everything to come to the USA ?
    ok : “temporary” education and engeneering school in the usa to return to his country whith more skills to help is ok but i also think his country need this kind of men more than usa does).
    UNLESS THIS IS WHAT HE REALLY WANTS, we should better give him money supplies, tools, and everything necessary for him and is country to develop there

  22. lite-dim-

    “Oh, WOE is poor “Star” Simpson, “punished” for “hacking” (she put a bunch of fucking LEDs on a protoboard. They didn’t do anything except blink, together.)”


    There’s a tendency in the media to take these losers and hold them up as persecuted geniuses. Rarely do I read an article about someone like Gary McKinnon that doesn’t sound like it was written entirely by his legal defence team.

  23. When 99% of the US population wouldn’t be able to do this with ALL the resources we have, I find this story pretty amazing. Is it world changing? No, but its a nice story.

    Seems like Hackaday is really going down the toilet, in terms of the active community of commenters. I remember when the comments were actually useful. Now they’re just racist trolls.

  24. I personally would love nothing more than to donate every scrap of electronics to this lad just to see what he would create.

    He took stuff that we would throw out and turned it into a useful device that literally brought light into his home if anything this fella should win some type of award for being green not just being this creative and intelligent without a formal education. If anyone hears of a way to get a donation out to this fella let me know I WILL PERSONALLY COUGH UP THE $80.00 for his tuition !

  25. Good work William (although sadly you might not be able to read this directly).

    Nice to see some effort when facing a proper challenge, not getting all pissy because UPS delivered your arduino late.

    *I love arduino, boo to the naysayers.

  26. This story is a lie, like the cake.

    Everybody knows the turbine can’t operate without an arduino in it. You have to buy one and put it in everything or whatever you’re building won’t function. Hackaday won’t even get their comission if you don’t buy them. Then you’ll have to read things that don’t involve arduinos, which by logic, don’t exist, your computer will quit working, the world will explode, and god will die.

  27. For those of you who expressed an interest in helping WK, there is a U.S. non-profit where you can donate funds or in-kind items, the Moving Windmills Project. http://www.movingwindmills.org.

    Having been to his home five times, I can attest to the fact that he is indeed special. The first windmill is only one of his many hacks.

    For those criticizing him, I understand your perspective, but imagine having no access to education, electricity, books, running water, clean clothes, and barely enough food to survive.
    Then try to do these projects with no tools, no money and no instructions.

    You can learn more on his blog, too at http://www.williamkamkwamba.com.

    Tom Rielly
    Executive Director
    Moving Windmills Project

  28. @Johnny B. Goode: It’s not /b/ tards exclusively. You’re forgetting the social majority on the Internet are primarily white kids from suburban neighborhoods. They’ve also been handed a lot of things financially in life, and proceed to take them for granted.

    Even the operators of this website fall under that demographic.

    You put most of these critics in a 3rd world environment with no financial assistance and you have a pan handler. Hell even put them in the woods behind their house with no financial assistance, and no friends with financial assistance and it happens.

    I’m not surprised by the racial references in some of the comments here.

  29. tjhooker speak for yourself. I was raised in the country. No problem killing and eating everything in sight while setting up a cellular repeater fed from a friggin potato. I’ll see ya on the other side…

  30. @coldwar Apparently I was wrong to single you out. It seems like I am in the minority and possibly in the wrong judging from the other comments on here. And no, I’m not brown. I guess you have a point about the co-opting of culture if white kids are frowned upon for rapping and the Rolling Stones stole rock from Delta bluesmen. I guess, while we’re at it, the people that are bashing the middle class white kids are just as classest/racist.

    Try to tone it down on the delivery though.

  31. @Hunter.
    1: Its called a book, you know the same thing that that fine gentleman had available to him.
    2: If you saw my tools then perhaps you would be inclined to think that I am renovating my house with garbage. I don’t even own a powerdrill, my drill is hand cranked from the 50’s. I have another for boring large holes that has a shoulder brace, got them both at a garage sale for 10 bucks. True I did purchase the finishing materials from a hardware store but I won’t apologize for taking any advantage I can. All of the skills I employ came from trial an error, or were taught to me during my time in many physical labour jobs. I do glean some information from the internet when needed but how is this different than visiting the library and finding a DIY manual? Other than the speed at which the information is delivered.

    I have no problem with this person and applaud his accomplishment, I have a problem with the pedestal on which he is being placed. I accept my position in life as it is my choices that have lead me here and it will be my choices that lead me out. I’m tired of being poor and have taken up a trade (welding) but I blame no one for my circumstances other than myself. I do however have the ability to survive in the woods with nothing other than my wits. For example I learned how to snare a rabbit with a willow branch when I was 12. Maybe that qualifies me for a scholarship?

    The education system in Canada and the States is sorely lacking and does not equip people with the skills needed for them to self educate. Instead it has us memorize pages of a book and regurgitate them in order to score well on a standardized test all while stifling creativity and punishing those who fall outside the norm.

    Be careful where you drop the hammer of judgment next time, you do not know me nor my background.

  32. Oh and before you ask, the reason I know how to trap, snare, hunt, fish, garden, and gather is because I HAD to know how to do these things otherwise some of my siblings may have gone hungry. Perhaps some of you do not know what it is to feel a true need but do not presume that all that live in North America are so lucky.

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