The French Presidential Council at Gearbox

On the 13th March 2019 we had an exciting opportunity to host the French Presidential Council that accompanied President Emmanuel Macron on his trip to Nairobi.

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The delegation, the Presidential Council for Africa (CPA), created on 29 August 2017, is a body composed of nine personalities from civil society, aimed at providing the President of the Republic of France with insight into the stakes involved in the relationship between France and Africa. Listening to the actors of this new relationship, in particular young Africans and diasporas, the CPA provides the Head of State with an overview of perceptions on the ground in sectors of the future such as education, training, culture, health, mobility, digital technology, entrepreneurship and the climate. It is then up to it to formulate, on the basis of these, concrete public policy proposals and actions.

The Delegation getting a tour from Dr. Kamau

The Delegation getting a tour from Dr. Kamau

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With the agenda of equipping young people for employment using digital technology there was a panel (at Nairobi Garage) that exchanged views on the challenges of digital technology and new technologies, which offer new training opportunities for young people and are a driving force for employment.


The panel comprised of;

  • Dr. Kamau Gachigi from Gearbox, on the manufacturing and development of digital tools in favor of job creation,

  • Jane Mwangi from KCB Foundation, on the 2jajiri initiative and the formalization of artisans from the informal sector,

  • Wakiuru Njuguna from Heva Fund, on the incubation and financing of entrepreneurial projects,

  • Laila Macharia from Africa Digital Media Institute (ADMI) School, on training for employment in the digital age

  • Stéphane Andre from Ecole Rubika, on digital technologies as applied to video games and animation content,

  • Charles Houdart from the French Development Agency (AFD), on the cultural and creative Industries and the support of entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Modern technology for "Juakali", the informal sector

There is a booming informal sector in Kenya of small-scale traders, craftspeople, and entrepreneurs. A large percentage is known as “Juakali” (“in the hot sun”) because they work by the roadside, sometimes with shelter, sometimes not. Supremely adaptable, whatever you want made, copied, or created, the Kenyan informal business sector can provide it—and fast.

In a recent survey, the Juakali sector employs more than 14 million people translating to an 83.4 percent total jobs in the country and contributes 34.3 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Making it one of the most intense sectors in the Kenyan economy.

As other countries move to adopt more advanced technologies to enhance their productivity, Kenyan artisans remain trapped in the Stone-Age applications, consequently hindering their growth and that of the economy. However ,Gearbox seeks  to  promote  the  creation  of  inclusive  manufacturing  opportunity  for  Kenyans by providing modern technology resources and training to curb this problem.

Gearbox’s approach is also decidedly future-facing, meaning  that  the  technologies  and  methodologies  it  avails are  consistent  with  the  4th  industrial revolution. Gearbox also goes further to ensure that the assistance provided is end-to-end by partnering with others who complement their work. The African Innovation Ecosystems Group (AfricaIEG) is a business resource network that brings   together   various   parties   interested   in   proactively   designing,   developing and   deploying new   innovation ecosystems across Africa to create a pipeline of investment-ready, technology driven businesses.

In partnership with KCB 2jiajiri program, Gearbox trained 250 informal sector (juakali) artisans in metal fabrication, sheet metal works, wood work and plastics all at Kamukunji region in Nairobi. Different machines were deployed and an intense hands-on session was experienced by each artisan. AfricaIEG connected training experts in life-skills, human centered design to add to the value of the training, and business development services to maximize the chances of business success, and of course minimize the risk associated with the machine-purchase loans. Bearing in mind that the juakali artisans are mostly unable to leave their place of work for training more than a few hours a day, Gearbox’s designed containers for outreach with an engineering workshop and a training room.

The main objective of the program is to train individuals to use modern digital fabrication tools to produce items that have proven demand, quality competitive products and with little to less man power.  Great point is that the  machines  they have been  trained  on  were  designed  and  built  by  local contacts  through the Gearbox network, and are already proven in the market place. How easy is it to design customized machines for them?

The artisans then are enabled to buy the machines through soft loans and Gearbox will ensure that they are linked to markets through the Government’s Big 4 Agenda, beginning specifically with the “Affordable Housing” pillar for which plans to provide 700,000 new low-income housing units (500,000 national government, 200,000 Nairobi County government) are at an advanced stage.

The artisans through this customized training will be able to provide; door  hinges,  plastic  shower units  (shower  trays  and  sliding doors,  all  made  from  acrylic  and  metal),  kitchen  counter  tops,  window  frames,  electrical  consumer  boxes  among other  things. The training will ensure that the quality of the products meet the requisite standards.

There is need to consciously put more effort to diversify local industrial production and through policy, and such training we can fully target to improve manufacturing in Kenya. There is no other way of growing local firms without us investing in new technologies and creating a conducive business environment.

Nelson Mandela said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Let’s rise and comprehensively deal with our bottom of the pyramid through linking innovations to our SMEs for greater local productions and exports.

Africa Rising with Gearbox

Roughly 51% of Africa’s population is under the age of 19, and it’s estimated that fewer than 70% of the population will attain salaried jobs upon reaching adulthood. Improving access to technology and entrepreneurship will become vital in ensuring Africa’s youth are able to build their own futures in the face of employment scarcity. Innovation hubs, makerspaces, AI, software development and robotics are all forming the backbone of what is being described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

One makerspace based in Kenya, Gearbox, provides low-cost access to digital fabrication technologies. Through shared and flexible facilities, training, mentorship and investment, Gearbox increases access to hardware entrepreneurship — in a way that particularly benefits young people. We spoke with Dr Kamau Gachigi, executive director of Gearbox, to find out more.



LVC: What kind of person uses Gearbox?

Kamau Gachigi: Gearbox is very much an ecosystem, where you can network, meet other innovators, and so on. The kind of person who typically we will be serving could be anything from an engineer to a maker. And our definition of maker, which I think is quite common, is someone who doesn’t have a formal engineering background but they have the engineering gene. Once they have learned a few fundamentals and been exposed to some methodologies, they can then be very active and productive with the tools. Even if you don’t have much education, we can introduce you to the tools at a high level.

LVC: What is it that interests you about the Lake Victoria Challenge?

Kamau Gachigi:: Technology can help to leapfrog deficit, especially if they’re technologies that don’t require large capital investment. In remote parts of the country, having drones build on other existing systems that have been adopted and adapted for the local population — like mobile money, for example — is very interesting.

LVC: Where does Gearbox fit in with the tech development in Africa?

Kamau Gachigi:: Most African countries are trying to make sure that they’re able to produce more of what they consume locally. To make sure that new technologies stick, it is important to ensure local participation at a grassroots level. With drones, for example, someone will need to learn how to maintain them, build replacement parts. You could even train people in design, which is what we would love to see happen.

Find out how Gearbox is helping people to build an African future.

UK trade delegation in Gearbox

With the news of the Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom visiting the country last year came even better news for us as we got an opportunity to host the business delegation that accompanied her.

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The visit comprised of a quick tour of the space; the workshop and companies within the space and a 30 minute session that was quite interactive in that members of the Gearbox community were able to interact with the said delegation.

In the interaction we realized there were some issues commonly shared i.e member company Pregmum that has the fetal heart monitor designed for the local market would solve an equally disturbing problem in some part of the UK to aid in maternal heath.


Gearbox being a hardware accelerator that provides members with access to modern machines for prototyping and low volume manufacture is keen on creating/ partnering with others to create such opportunities for our members.

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STEM and Gearbox academy

Science and Technology is intrinsically connected to everything in our society and it is important for Africa to recognize the fundamental role of STEM in its' future. While we recognize the significance and complementary role of the arts in contributing to the well-roundness of the overall quality education, students who study STEM subjects develop a variety of skills that are essential for our continent's future: critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation and collaboration, to name a few. These are the skills needed to solve Africa's most complex and pressing challenges today – from healthcare to agriculture to urban revitalization, infrastructure to global warming.

A key way to meet these emerging challenges for the 21st century is to grow the STEM skills base of young Africans. As an engine of growth, the potential of STEM is endless. We have seen the tremendous benefits STEM has brought to Africa, especially through wireless technologies, which have transformed our businesses into mobile and global enterprises. We now have faster, real-time access to information about infectious diseases, global markets, and customer perceptions; and the ability to place our local products and services in a more competitive global market has opened new opportunities on the continent

At Gearbox, we introduced the Gearbox Academy, a hands-on training program that teaches young students, both in Primary and Secondary level, on aspects on computer programming and gives students the necessary skills required to think creatively and innovatively, arming them with the mindset to solve problems.

They start on individual projects, solving their own problems using systems like VR, AI, embedded system and others.During the project development and training, the trainee will use the Human Centered Design (HCD). This is the approach where the trainee solves an actual Social challenge in the community by immersing themselves in the community, interacting with the people and getting their point of view on how best the solution can be formulated. then the trainee takes on the development, from the process of ideation to prototyping and then to implementation.

During the whole process of implementation, the trainee is required to keep on the loop the community members to whom they are creating the solution as well as the trainers. the trainee will make regular sittings with the community members as the are contributors in the process of the development. the Human Centered design is an iterative process that will require involvement from start to end.

Teaching and exposing young minds to this kind of technology expands their minds and gives opportunity for young people to learn how to solve their own problem using available technological resources and expertise. In the Industry future 4.0 aligning their skills and expertise towards this will be viable in future.

Green energy technology in Kenya

Kenya is rich in forest area, with 1.7 millionhectares of forests. However, continued reliance on wood-based charcoal has led to deforestation at an alarming rate. Additionally,In many regions of the developing and emerging markets, proper management of organic waste represents a significant and continued challenge.

Bio-digestion, composting and waste to energy represent possible solutions to this problem. However due to technological, infrastructural, and logistical reasons these technologies have not hit the mark. Could the commercialisation of charcoal briquettes derived from organic waste be the answer?

In late February a nationwide logging ban was announced in Kenya to allow for reassessment and rationalisation of the entire forest sector in Kenya. This was in response to increasing deforestation, droughts and human encroachment upon valuable forests and agricultural land.

Since then, greeen energy startups have taken several steps towards a green economy and developed a strategy to consolidate, scale up and embed green energy growth initiatives in national development goals.

Lumbrick is a clean energy social enterprise recycling organic waste from Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa to produce clean cooking fuel for people who use charcoal. The briquettes burn twice as long as traditional charcoal without emitting any smoke.

They design, produce and distribute carbonized and non-carbonized heating briquettes using recycled organic waste collected from different areas in Kenya. Providing affordable substitute eco-fuel in Kenyan households and industries.

Lumbrick prototype at Gearbox

Lumbrick prototype at Gearbox

‘We believe that every human being has a right to clean and affordable energy. Our role is to facilitate the shift in the use of dirty fuels to affordable modern environmentally friendly charcoal. We aim to keep these institutions running while conserving the environment.’ Says Sarah Pellerin, CIO Lumbrick.

Ishow ASME 2018 winners Bentos energy also uses innovation and technology to produce sustainable green energy solutions for both households, social and industrial institutions.They make charcoal briquettes that can be burnt for industrial and domestic capacities.

Bentos Energy win Ishow 2018 

Bentos Energy win Ishow 2018 

‘We use community based organizations that provide waste from the hotels and dumps. Then process this waste to affordable and smokeless charcoal briquette and organic fertilizer and sell to low income earners whos problem is high cooking fuels’ says Ishmael Hezekiel, COO Bentos Energy.

Briquetting machines use high pressure to mold loose biomass waste into compact and solid fuel blocks that can be used for cooking, boiling water or heating rooms, among other uses.

Over ten years ago when the poorest residents of Nairobi started making briquettes out of charcoal dust, they were trying to solve an immediate household problem of unaffordable fuel. Today, their work is helping overcome some of Kenya’s capital city’s most intractable headaches—poverty, unemployment, and poor waste management—and contributing to the country’s sustainable development aspirations, too.

Charly Mwangi, Senior Director, Engineering, Tesla at Gearbox!

“Being an African and talking about technology, no one believes you. When I started at Toyota, people didn’t trust me to explain how the printer worked!” says Charly Mwangi, Senior Director of Engineering at Tesla.

Dr. Kamau Gachigi hosting a talk with Charles Mwangi at Gearbox

Dr. Kamau Gachigi hosting a talk with Charles Mwangi at Gearbox

Charly went to school in Nairobi. He attended Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. When he was 24, he got a scholarship to carry forward his civil engineering studies at Tennessee State University. Comparing his education in Nairobi and in Nashville, he finds his technical background outweighs his American counterparts’. Simply put, “school is way harder here [in Kenya]”.

In 2003, Toyota’s head hunters were sent to “recruit diversity” on the majority black campus of Tennessee University. They selected two African students, one from Cameroon, and one from Kenya. The school sponsored them both for visas and Charly launched his career as a manufacturing engineer for Toyota Motor Corporation. Time was short, as he was set to graduate -and thus lose his visa sponsorship- in 2005, and Charlie made the best of it. Spending all his free time reading and documenting as much knowledge as he could, he earned the nickname “Old man Toyota”.

In 2006, after graduating, Charly launched a second job at Nissan, who offered to sponsor him for a work permit. He proved his worth during his first year as a graduate manufacturing engineer, but Nissan were late to submit his visa, and in December 2006, he was on the verge of being kicked out of Mississippi. At the time, Nissan had an expatriation program for engineers with 6 years of experience inside the corporation. Reluctant to lose him, they fast tracked the rookie engineer though the program and sent him to design automated processes for building the body of Nissan cars in Kanagawa, Japan.

Ever since he started working, Charly made a point of interviewing with one company a year. This allowed him to evaluate his self worth on the job market and the opportunity cost of remaining in his current position. In 2012, that company was Tesla. Even though Tesla was created in 2003, 9 years later, they still acted as a start up. During his interview, Charly was told “in 6 months, you might not have a job [if you come for us]”. So he went and integrated a company whose take rate is lower than Harvard’s.

Tesla has two main focuses: energy and cars. Charly was hired as a body manufacturing engineer for the latter division. After six years in the company, he leads a team of 400 passionate engineers. “The best engineers are mission driven”, and as a manager, Charly spends a lot of time making sure that his guys can see the link between what they do and the difference they are making.

Electric vehicles represent roughly 1% of the world automotive market today. According to Charly, Tesla’s aim is not to be the only player on the electric market, but to act as a catalyst to launch this change. “Things change at Tesla all the time”, because they invest in the future. Today, a car is the second most expensive expenditure in a household, but on average, it is only in use 8% of the time. With Tesla investing in automation and self driving technologies, they are opening the door for a smarter and more efficient sharing economy in the automotive market. “My daughter is 5”, says Charly, “and I expect she will never have to pass a driving licence. She will never own a car. She will simply hold a participation in a self driving Tesla car -laughs-”. The future as he sees it, is to call upon your car like you would order an Uber, and have it drop you off before it leaves to pick up someone else. No more traffic jams. No more parking spots.  

An automated future.

Chair of the senate Committee on ICT. The Visit

Gearbox, a tech community for hardware innovation had the opportunity to host the Baringo Senator, Gideon Moi. He toured the space and heard impact stories of local companies that build solutions for local problems.

Over the years, Kenya has become the global technology hub of choice when it comes to attracting the strategic business activities of ICT companies in emerging markets.Innovators have ventured into a range of industries, identifying problems and offering viable solutions.

The Executive Director Dr.Kamau Gachigi conducted the tour through the fabrication labs capturing the imagination of technological progress by makers, students, and the hosted companies.


The Baringo senator, who is also the chair of ICT in the Senate, got to interact with companies that employ technological infrastructure through hardware and future systems to build human centered solutions.

He was introduced to Mary Mwangi, whose company is using digital tech to automate trust in transactions for SMEs. Integrated Data solutions has incorporated an end to end payment solution system that digitizes payments and resources around payments. This modern computing promotes integrity and overall sustainable growth of small business.

He also met, June Arunga CEO Usafi Comfort a company that gives waste water treatment solutions for industrial and commercial installation. She explained that the centralized systems help make water sanitation decisions like waste water problems curbing increase of water borne diseases and the database can give predictive maintenance and proactive water management systems.

Currently, ICT and digital technologies are being used to improve efficiency and productivity in various industries. ICT technologies and vertical domains are converged in IoT to provide new levels of functionalities and services to users.

Dr. Kamau led him to Lectrotel Microsystems a company that designs IOT solutions for local problems. They talked to Douglas who described his innovation of a smart solar water pump controlled by a smart phone. The water pump is affordable and easy to use for people in the arid areas is being used as an irrigation system that ensures food security.


In addition to connecting objects equipped with digital information with sensing, processing and communication capabilities,IOT has also greatly expanded the digital footprint to connecting people, organizations and information resources

This ubiquitous infrastructure is generating abundant data that can be utilized to achieve efficiency gains in the production and distribution of goods and services, and to improve human life in innovative ways.

Gideon met Bonface Sato, founder of Pregmum, a company that has developed a digital foetus monitor for continuous pregnancy monitoring. The device can access cloud storage from which the vital data is recorded and stored for analysis and future reference. Sato explained that the device helps in early detection and response to pregnancy emergency reducing maternal mortality and still births.

The head of ICT in senate also met with Nick Quatong from PayGo, a company that makes smart metering system for LPG gas. The system provides affordable energy solutions to people in the low income areas by removing cost barriers to clean cooking fuel, and allowing customers to purchase gas on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Lastly, in the transport sector, Gideon had a chat with Nick Kimali, an electrical engineer who designs and makes digital dynamics smart speed limiters that give GPS based speed limiting. These speed meters ensure speed limits on specific roads is maintained by public vehicles.

This is a clear indication that a revolution will unfold over the coming decades with opportunities, challenges, and implications that are not yet fully known. To harness these benefits, Africa will need to create conditions supportive to the deployment of next-generation network and service infrastructures. They will also have to adopt policies that are conducive to experimentation and innovation, while mitigating potential risks to information security, privacy, and employment.


Junior Academy - Kahush Mutahi

To amplify the impact of the effect of technology on the society, gearbox has started the Junior academy training to train young aspiring engineers and innovators at an early age.Different schools and backgrounds, student are encouraged to join in and start on long term and short term introductory courses on electronics, web development and other innovation technologies.

Kahush Mutahi a year 12 business student from Bosworth Academy piloted the academy for two weeks. He learnt about embedded systems and IoT and without a electrical or engineering background, he was able to develop a basic knowledge of how embedded systems works. He even went ahead and developed a system that is able to sense motion and manage lighting in rooms depending on the motion detected.


His automated Lighting and Motion Sensor System works by managing how much energy is used in the lighting of spaces around the house by regulating the lighting systems whether there are people in the house or not. The system turns on the light in a room when someone gets into the room and switches it off immediately they leave, this is an IoT project that saves energy by eliminating the chances where people forget to switch bulbs in rooms and thus wasting energy.

Kahush was taken through a basic introductory crash course on how to identify components of an arduino kit, basic connections and taken through a collection of tutorials and links through which he has been able to read through, the simplicity with which the training was offered was all he required and the week after, he was able to create a entry level project.

The student has intended to make his project portable enough to carry around mount it on places it would be required without much labour or technical expertise. To do this, he will be need to be able to learn more so that he can configure more components to work with his basic system. This way he learns the challenges experienced by innovators in a bid to make things portable and create ease of movement of products.

In the few days, he would work on the designing hardware and other components that will enable his projects to work in various locations and under different capabilities. To perform tasks like these he would learn other industrial design and fabrication software, with which he be able to design and create other products that may or may not be associated with his system.

Further, he took a quick on Autodesk Fusion 350 to create a model for the prototype of his system. He created a model of a room in a residential room, in this room he installed his automated motion sensor lighting system.

After 3D Printing and assembly of the system components. The testing and corrections made, the system performed as expected, hand movements and nods would cause the light to come on and off when there was stillness in the model room.

The system would detect motion in and out of the room and a light would come on or off. The system is highly sensitive and thus even the slightest movement.


Although the system has its shortcomings like heavily dependent on motion to function,  that would make sure that it performs unregulated tasks especially when other in the room like curtains move and requirement of heavy maintainence, he chose to see all the good.


“This would be helpful when someone is a room motionless and has an activity they are engaged in, they could move a limb and the system would respond appropriately instantly. This system would be helpful to people who are physically challenged, the aged and children who are still young and would be needed to use certain rooms. The system eliminated the need to switch on or off the lights.” He explained

New and emerging technologies have always been associated with the younger generations. Older people tend to be set in their ways, leaving tech-savvy millennials in the forefront of discovering and embracing new devices as they arrive on the scene. Younger people learn more quickly and that goes for technology in the same way it goes for everything else.

Making a Noise Sensor

In this project, we will go over how to build a sound detector circuit.

A sound detector circuit, as you would probably know, is a circuit that can detect sound, such as talking, clapping, or shouting and indicates the level of the noise.

Based on this sound that the circuit detects, we can let anything happen in the circuit, such as have an LED light.

In this sound detector circuit which we will build now, we are going to use a micro controller, an Atmega 328 and LEDs to indicate when sound is detected.

Of course, we will use a microphone to be able to detect sound. But a microphone alone is insufficient for this circuit. This is because a microphone alone, without an amplifier, produces very small electrical signals. If we connected the output sound signals from a microphone directly into the pin of a controller, the board wouldn't be able to detect any meaningful signal, since it is so small. To be able to detect a signal that is large enough, the signal needs to be amplified first to be usable by the controller. Therefore, we must connect the microphone to an amplifier, have the signal amplified, and then connect the amplified signal into the controller.

So in order to build our circuit, we will use a microphone and connect it to an audio amplifier to get amplified signals. The amplifier IC will amplify the output signals that the microphone produces so that the controller will be able to detect large enough signals to interpret them.

See how it works;