There is some oddness, a sense of remoteness that comes up when technology and Africa are used in the same sentence. It is like thinking of a rainforest at the heart of the Sahara or Kalahari Desert. However, at the heart of Nairobi, Kenya, a team of software developers, engineers, and technologists are rewriting the story of Africa from remoteness and oddness to possibilities. Located at iHub, where I meet Kurtis Unger – Lead Electrical, for an interview, this group of techies has designed, prototyped and produced a cleanleap connectivity device fondly known as the BRCK. BRCK is a device seeking to solve problems of electricity and internet connections, problems that are prevalent in both rural and urban areas of Africa. The design of the device itself speaks of nothing but physical toughness– adaptability to connect to multiple networks, enough backup power to survive a blackout, in short a magic box to serve technological challenges in Africa.
This magical device is built in Nairobi, Kenya and manufactured in the USA, with mobility and flexibility in mind. BRCK is operational in over 140 countries which means you can insert your 3G enabled SIM card and you are connected. BRCK comes with an option that allows connectivity without a sim card via the inbuilt BRCK Mobile Virtual Network operator; although this option is still under development. People can get on the internet through WIFI connection as long as the BRCK has a cellular mobile connection, however, there is an inclusion of an external GSM antenna port for those moments when one is at the edge of the signal range and this antenna will aid in reaching the distance.
With most of routers and modems built for operating in New York and London, BRCK is built for Africa. It is built to work in harsh environments where infrastructure isn’t robust. Its rugged design means that the BRCK can withstand falls and drops, dust, weather, and even dirty voltage charging. With this in mind, BRCK has helped Kenyans and other users to cleanleap in several ways. The device is built in a way that withstands all sorts of power related challenges. For instance it can handle everything from a reverse voltage and surge protection. If there is a power blackout BRCK can work for 8 straight hours in full power, and much longer if in a lower state. This also means that you can charge BRCK from a solar panel, car battery, your computer and not worry about it burning out.
It is also helping people cleanleap in terms of adaptability, where one can build their own software and hardware on top of the BRCK. This is possible through the available Application Programming Interface (API) sensors and other devices can be connected through an Arduino compatible GPIO port. In short what you can do with the BRCK is limitless. In areas where connectivity is weak, BRCK is ideal in that it is integrated in such a manner that accommodates challenges of internet connection.
At the center of all this is ability to manage the BRCK via the Cloud. This means you can set your preferences, see the BRCK’s dashboard of statistics, and top up credit on your local SIM card from anywhere in the world. This is also where you can push content, and plug in your custom applications to all of the BRCKs you own from one place. This device offers a login from anywhere, a cleanleap experience in itself.
This has also helped the education sector where they have created an educational content cloud, making it easier to access and manage the challenges of content transfer, distribution and usage.
Eric Mutei, Cleanleap and Kurtis Unger, BRCK
According to Kurtis Unger, the focus market is East Africa. However, with time, they intend to shift focus to other African countries. For the year they have been operational they have been able to distribute over 3,000 BRCKs in over 50 countries, and this is truly a technological cleanleap success story.