Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tolu Iroye: The Kid With The Magic Box

Tolu Iroye, 27, dropped out of school after his O’Levels due to his family’s inability to continue paying his fees. The electronic designer did not allow his lack of further schooling to limit his future. He has created what he calls the Magic Box, a device that allows its user to switch off electrical appliances in their home or office from a mobile phone. A video demonstration of this technology at the magazine’s premises recently struck one with awe.
Tolu Iroye receiving his award for best use of technology at The Future Awards

The Magic Box began as an idea to create a non-line of sight remote control that would work for his TV set without him being in the room. “I’m motivated by the need to create solutions to problems,” Iroye said. And so he began work with components that he sourced from the Alaba Electronics Market. It took about one year to complete the Magic Box, an equipment that allows one to switch off any electronic device in the home or office with a phone call from anywhere in the world. The user makes a phone call to a sim card located in the Box which gives a voice prompt that offers options to the caller on how to switch on or off their TV, power generator and light metre through a micro-controller. 

Iroye’s recent victory in The Future Award’s best use of technology category brought out the life story of the brilliant techie which began many years ago. As a child, Iroye’s curiosity got the better of him and the quiet albeit stubborn kid loved to look at pictures in science books. Even though he could not read them, his older siblings took out time to explain the concepts to him. At age six years old, Iroye built his first invention, a cell battery using ground charcoal, a disposed carbon rod, a tin of milk, lime water, grass and herbs all picked from the neighbourhood rubbish mound.

Amused by his resourcefulness and sometimes-destructive streak - Iroye would tear apart the family’s transistor radio looking for the magical voice that came out of it - but his parents left him to explore.  He left many an electronic gadget in their Festac, Lagos apartment in tatters. From out of these he built new stuff. It was the beginning of his inventor’s journey. 

At age 10, he built a battery-powered toy car from his heap of scrap. At 12 Tolu began purchasing scraps from friends with his pocket money. While the other boys at school spent their lunch money on hiring bicycles, he used his to purchase equipment for constructing homemade antennas that neighbours bought  to enable them unscramble signals from the Cabletel satellite channel. “I still don’t know how to ride a bicycle,” Iroye joked.

More was to follow. He created a land telephone network that enabled him to communicate free with friends in their apartment block. An audio transmitter followed and then a voltage stabiliser to help the family adjust the low voltage they were supplied by the power company when they moved to Badagry. This was all before he turned 14.
Iroye's Magic Box
Constrained by an environment that stifles creativity, Iroye has taken to selling his inventions across the border in Cotonou, Benin Republic where he is hoping to gain a foothold soon enough. “This is the least of my inventions,” he says of the Magic Box. “There’s more to come in the future.”


  1. A big thank you to the Awards organizers for recognizing this talent. It is so refreshing and uplifting that at last we are beginning to recognize what truly matters in our society.
    I believe with technology and innovation we will lift our country out of poverty and solve the myriad of problems facing us.
    Congratulations to Mr. Iroye and I am confident that this is just the beginning of your great innovations. It will also motivate others to innovate. Congratulations sir. We are so proud of you.

  2. Lolade this is a fantastic story. It is a shame that Mr Iroye had to leave Nigeria. This is an initiative that at least the state government or even better Federal government should encourage.

    They should have a business park, where he (and others of his calibre) can be left to innovate and produce useful inventions. Training should be applied in marketing, and running a business and loans and tax breaks to allow his business to burgeon. That way he will be an entrepreneur, who can employ others.

    Nigeria is always missing chances, and always wondering why they are at the bottom of the heap.

    I wish Mr Iroye success, he provides hope in a land where the sun appears to be setting. This is a great story.

    Technology is the future, so ignoring that is to condemn oneself to an uncertain, poverty-stricken existence. Thanks for posting this story.

  3. really? the built battery powered cars from scrap?! that's awesome!