Wired

Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Ying M. Zhao-Hie­mann

Ushahidi, a not-for-profit tech­nol­ogy com­pany based in Kenya, has in­vented a cloud-man­aged, por­ta­ble Wi-Fi router that con­sists of a mo­bile mo­dem, which can also be used as a backup power gen­er­a­tor for the In­ter­net dur­ing elec­tric­ity black­outs or in sit­u­a­tions of limited net­work cov­er­age. Called BRCK (pro­nounced as “brick”), ex­perts are al­ready rec­og­niz­ing it as an in­ge­nious so­lu­tion to Africa’s in­tractable power prob­lems.

The BRCK is rugged and wa­ter-proof and com­pat­i­ble with any de­vice that re­quires between 3 and 17 volts power sup­ply. It weighs 510g and it’s about the size of a Mac Mini. Ideal for use in par­tic­u­larly ru­ral ar­eas, it can be charged on read­ily avail­able power sources such as a car bat­tery or a so­lar panel. When the elec­tric­ity goes off, BRCK au­to­mat­i­cally switches to bat­tery mode, which can then last for eight hours.

The BRCK is ex­pected to al­le­vi­ate prob­lems that African In­ter­net users face daily such as high com­mu­ni­ca­tion costs and un­re­li­able elec­tric­ity. In ad­di­tion, cur­rently avail­able modems in Africa don’t meet lo­cal needs. They are de­signed pri­mar­ily for use in more de­vel­oped re­gions, par­tic­u­larly the West and Asia, where there is mostly un­in­ter­rupted ac­cess to elec­tric­ity and In­ter­net.

The BRCK can switch between Eth­er­net, Wi- Fi and mo­bile broad­band con­nec­tions, and de­liver con­nec­tiv­ity for up to 20 de­vices at the same time through mul­ti­ple sim cards, thereby al­low­ing users to stay con­nected at a rel­a­tively low cost. Ushahidi is op­ti­mistic about the de­vice’s po­ten­tial to help small busi­ness own­ers in Kenya and other parts of Africa. “Out of ad­ver­sity can come in­no­va­tion,” said Juliana Rotich, Ushahidi’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, at a pre­sen­ta­tion at the TED Global Con­fer­ence in Scot­land last year.

Ms. Rotich em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of con­nec­tiv­ity and en­trepreneur­ship for Africa’s dig­i­tal econ­omy, and high­lighted the BRCK’s role in keep­ing Africans con­nected. Last July, BRCK’s cre­ators were in­vited by eLimu, a Kenyan tech com­pany, to con­sider start­ing a project in e-learn­ing to schools in re­mote lo­ca­tions.

The BRCK has also been stress-tested suc­cess­fully in ru­ral Kenya and dur­ing the Rhino Charge, an an­nual off-road mo­tor­sport com­pe­ti­tion. Launched last July in Nairobi, each BRCK sells for $ 199. Africa’s on­go­ing in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy trans­for­ma­tion makes the BRCK a po­ten­tially pop­u­lar de­vice.

Ushahidi (mean­ing “tes­ti­mony” or “wit­ness” in Swahili) was founded in 2008 as a web­site to map re­ports of vi­o­lence in Kenya in the af­ter­math of the dis­puted 2007 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Since then, the com­pany has evolved into a leader of the tech­nol­ogy com­mu­nity in East Africa.

Ushahidi

The BRCK be­ing field-tested.

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