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Meet Dennis Kibalama Who Helped Top American University Win Global Technology Contest

Dennis Kibalama with American students
Dennis Kibalama with fellow students from Ohio State University

By Moses Sserwanga

As Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) moves to start production of vehicles in Uganda come 2018, their young engineers have been acquiring additional knowledge and skills from the world’s top Universities and Vehicle Manufacturing Plants.

One of such engineers is Dennis Kibalama who recently returned from Ohio State University where for the last two years he has been pursuing a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

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Before he packed his bags for further studies at Ohio State University, Kibalama, 27, was part of a team that developed the Kiira EV SMACK launched in 2014 and the Kayoola Solar Bus launched in 2016.

While there, Kibalama, powered by determination worked with the EcoCAR project as a visiting scholar at the institution’s internationally renowned Center for Automotive Research.

It did not take long for the young brilliant engineer’s leadership skills to be noticed by the project supervisors who promptly chose him to be the team’s electric propulsion system lead engineer.

 Kibalama, on EcoCAR, was charged with mainly the high-voltage components of the hybrid vehicle.

His work involved designing, integration and testing the electrical components within the car.

“In my case, that’s why I went to Ohio State out of all the institutions,” the soft spoken Kibalama says with a tad of American accent, “I actually went to Ohio State because of EcoCAR.”

Eng. Denis Kibalama

Eng. Denis Kibalama

Ohio State was crowned year two champion of the EcoCAR 3 – Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition in 2016.

The 4-year engineering feat challenges 16 select universities to redesign a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro to reduce its environmental impact, while maintaining performance.

Ohio State was also crowned year three championin 2017 which marks the fourth consecutive victory for the Buckeyes.

“A project like EcoCAR gives students access to the very latest technology and allows them to compete in a high-stakes, national competition,” says Shawn Midlam-Mohler, Kibalama’s associate professor in clinical mechanical and aerospace engineering and faculty adviser for the Ohio State EcoCAR team.

“It is one of the best examples of Ohio State’s commitment to experiential learning activities to produce students with an exceptional experience.”

But EcoCAR isn’t the only thing about Ohio State University that impressed Kibalama.

“Ohio State has been really awesome, the facilities and the support of the faculty are really good,” he says adding: “It’s not just the faculty, it’s also the students.They are a pretty brilliant bunch of people.”

Midlam-Mohler says that Kibalama has also “gained significant leadership” experience through managing students on his sub-team at EcoCAR.

“This leadership experience is absolutely vital to his future success when he goes back to Kiira to support their vehicle development efforts.”

Working on the student motorsports team offered Kibalama hands-on experience which he can apply to Kiira Motors’ goals.

So what motivates these young Ugandan engineers to venture into the innovative space for the green mobility technological solutions?

“I would really be happy to see a car on the road and know I did something to make that happen, to me that’s fulfilling,” Kibalama says.

It’s not just about having a product out there, he says, but having a good product, something that I can be proud of.

He further explains that “As a pioneer of green transport solutions for the African market, my experience with the EcoCAR competition would not have come at a better time for Kiira Motors.”

He continues: “Leveraging the vast knowledge and skills attained while working on the EcoCAR competition and applying them to the Product Development and Vehicle Innovation Programs will go a long way in strengthening the green transport solutions vehicle portfolio that KMC is looking to produce.”

Eng. Denis Kibalam with friends from Ohio State University

Eng. Denis Kibalam with friends from Ohio State University

Kiira Motors Corporation, (KMC) has become a magnetic presence on Uganda’s and Africa’s automotive scene after a surprise but successful development of three solid concept vehicles.

The three are; “Kiira EV, 2011”, a two seater electric vehicle, the “Kiira EV SMACK, 2014”, a five-seater sedan hybrid electric vehicle and the “Kayoola Solar Bus, 2016” a Battery-Electric Vehicle.

The Ugandan company is now set to start production of vehicles in 2018.

And Kibalama will in every way be involved in the vehicle production processes at the KMC Vehicle Plant in Jinja some 44 miles from the capital Kampala.

He is now back at the KMC headquarters as a Powertrain Systems Engineer.

His work entails design, development and validation of powertrain control strategies while leveraging model based design and control techniques for vehicles that the KMC Department of Product Development is developing.

Background

Born 27 years ago at Mulago hospital, Kibalama has two sisters from his immediate family and five other siblings from his extended family.

He went to Aga Khan Primary School (P1-P5) and Kampala Parents School (P6-P7) before joining Makerere College School for his ordinary and advanced education (S1 – S6).

He later attained his Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Makerere University and his Masters of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Ohio State University.

Kibalama’s employers and Uganda‘s prospective car producers, KMC have won prestigious innovation accolades, one of them being the 2016 Frost and Sullivan Visionary Innovation Leadership Award in Sustainable Mobility.

Each year, Frost & Sullivan presents this award to a company that has demonstrated the ability to understand and leverage global Mega Trends, integrating this vision into processes to achieve strategic excellence.

According to Frost and Sullivan, Kiira Motor’s vision extends far beyond that of standard vehicle manufacturing processes.

Dennis Kibalama with American students

Dennis Kibalama with American students

Its sustainable mobility solutions provide massive opportunity for vehicle development and commercializationin a country that is lagging behind in African and global automotive indices.

“The focus on developing sustainable electric, hybrid, and solar vehicles will allow KMC to capture the leadership position in an uncontested market space,” said Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst ZiyaadHanware.

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