At a TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, a modem was announced that has been designed specifically for Africa. By combining a rugged design with a range of connectivity options, it is hoped that the BRCK will help start a hardware revolution on the African continent.
The Kenyan tech firm behind the modem, Ushahidi, originally began designing software to monitor the Kenyan elections in 2008, but soon they discovered a new market that needed to be tapped: a reliable internet connection at affordable prices, that was designed specially for the needs of the African continent.
Director Juliana Rotich, who is also a senior TED fellow, explained how Ushahidi had become increasingly frustrated using hardware that was not designed for Africa, commenting that “While Africa may have joined the digital revolution and mobile is become ubiquitous, internet connectivity is not always reliable and the price of connecting is high.” In a continent so prone to power outrages, Rotich asked, “Why do we use technology designed for London and Los Angeles when we live in Nairobi and New Delhi?”
The solution to the problem, Ushahidi found, was to create their own hardware. The BRCK modem works like a mobile phone; it can be switched between Wi-Fi and 3G, and can also be used with a SIM card to offer a network anywhere in reach of a mobile tower. The modem features an eight hour battery life, has cloud-based software which means it can be accessed from anywhere, and even has an antenna to boost signal strength in villages where mobile signal is hard to find.
Rotich is hopeful that the BRCK will open up a new market in Kenya for hardware specifically developed for the African market. “Getting components can be a logistical nightmare. We had people carrying components from the US which led to some interesting conversations with border guards” she said. By creating this new market, Ushahidi will be enabling the continent to connect cheaply and reliably to the Internet, and to reap the benefits that comes with this luxury that is so often taken for granted in other parts of the world. The BRCK will go on sale in November and will cost $199.
– Chloe Isacke