How this Cameroonian’s invention of an anti-collision system to save lives landed him in custody in France

Stephen Nartey January 05, 2023
Dr. Severin Kezeu/Photo via Avnet

Early accounts of Severin Kezeu’s childhood were one of a boy who loved reading any book he stumbled on. He learned about robotics when he was seven years old. It was during this same period that he became enlightened about matters of social justice and civil rights through the lenses of such prominent activists as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

He had an interest in mathematics and computer science when he gained admission to the University of Yaoundé. According to Afrik Hepri, after several attempts to pursue higher education, his application was accepted at the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation of Strasbourg in France.

Before he rose to international prominence, Kezeu in 1991 was awarded the French National Prize for Invention and Innovation when he presented his doctoral dissertation on collision. Before his anti-collision system was adopted internationally, the standard collision avoidance systems were industry specific. There were those strictly for cars developed by auto specialists or ones for cranes designed by professionals in that space.

Aside from these inventions being parallel in approach, they lacked the ability to alert in the face of risks or when there were false alarms of impending dangers. It was therefore near impossible to avert disasters like trains colliding with a vehicle on a railway track.

To address these problems, Kezeu introduced his unique anti-collision system called the Navigator. According to Kumatoo, the Navigator system “collects information such as the position of the equipment, its speed, the load it carries, its ability or inability to slow down, the speed and direction of the wind, etc. and then processes them to compute the collision risk probability. If the probability is high, the computer warns the equipment operator. However, if it is critical, it is the onboard computer that takes control of the equipment to avoid collisions.”

His invention works in 3D and can detect possible collisions as well as be reconfigured from the Internet at any time, the platform adds. The Navigator is also configurable with all types of mobile equipment including planes, trains, cars, cranes, and security gates. After winning the award for his invention in 1991, his company (SK-Group France) began providing services to companies like Bouygues, Liebher, and Alstom.

Shockingly, the French government did not believe that the Navigator was developed by the Cameroonian inventor. Authorities placed Kezeu and his wife in custody until they ascertained that he actually was the brain behind the invention, according to Kumatoo.

Tech critics are of the view this apprehension might have been triggered by the color of Kezeu’s skin and prejudice that Black people are incapable of building highly sophisticated technology. To appease him, the French government offered him citizenship to become a French national. The Navigator is in use by the Pentagon as well as the French army. It is also used in the United Kingdom, China, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Cameroon, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 5, 2023


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