Making a seven segment digital wall clock

Analog clocks are not as popular as the whole world seems to be switching to digital options. There’s no doubt that various types of timing devices have undergone changes over the last few years and with the rise of mobile devices, which are totally digital, there are fewer analog clocks.

This project of a digital clock utilizing discrete electronic parts is worth making as its far better than the commercial module type of use-and-throw digital clocks, which are though cheap, can be very unreliable in their operation. Moreover the components used in this project are all easily available and easily replaceable in case a fault arises.

 A digital wall clock

A digital wall clock

The circuit has been equipped with all facilities normally associated with digital clocks and features one would expect from it. Along with the hour and minutes, it has a blinking colon to separate the two. At the moment, the clock can be operated through DC power but with an adapter can run with an AC power source.

The current consumption in the “sleep mode" is around 4mA, in this mode the LED display remains switched OFF but the clock keeps the timing updated correctly so that when the displays are switched ON again, it provides the current timings accurately.

This LED or LCD light display is called a “7-segment display.” This is because there are seven segments that can light up to display a number. For instance, the number 8 uses all 7 lights. But the light segments are designed to be able to light up in any array to display the numbers 0 to 9. These lights are situated on the display so that they display two sets of two digit numbers.

 Mumo, an electrical engineer finishing up on the clock

Mumo, an electrical engineer finishing up on the clock

The electric components in a digital clock are designed so that they have a built-in processor (ATMEGA 328) which basically looks for a “13” in the hours display (24 hour system). Users can also reset the time using digital buttons that are installed on the clock in some accessible location. These buttons allow increased frequencies so that the numbers more much faster.


Engage with Kenya, the Silicon Savannah!

We are in an era where people are leaving formal employment to set up businesses of their own, or some just have passions that they want to pursue, beside their formal jobs that is. We had an exciting opportunity to host two Belgian organizations active in the digital space, ( and Close the Gap ( The Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Development and Digital Agenda of Belgium Alexander De Croo also joined the delegation.



We had presentations from both Kenya and Belgium on the different businesses they are involved in and challenges that startups from these countries face

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"Startup scene in Kenya are booming & flourishing! Thanks to startups, @GearboxKE hardware prototypes can be made & new solutions in the field of pure water & green energy" Alexander De Croo

It is said that the origin of Africa’s tech movement can be traced back to Kenya, and to its capital Nairobi, that has been home to several major technological innovations in the 21st century. These innovations birthed Kenya as the Silicon Valley of Africa, now better known as the Silicon Savannah. Find out more via this link.


Design and make

Imagine the power of a design with available tools and machinery to build.We are on our way to industry 4.0 where machines will need instructions to make for us.

 The product

The product

Gearbox, a fabrication lab for fab academy

Gearbox can be described as a digital fabrication lab, Fab lab, a space set up to inspire people and entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into new products and prototypes by giving them access to a range of advanced digital manufacturing technology. In this essence we participate in a global Fab lab network as a node for Fab academy. The role of Fab Academy is to initiate, mentor and technically train new students for participation and leadership in the global Fab Lab Network community.  

 Loise Kimwe in the dark room.

Loise Kimwe in the dark room.

Loise Kimwe, a Gearbox intern and a computer science graduate was given a full scholarship by Gearbox. Driven by her huge passion for engineering she took the opportunity to be part of the network that exposes her to a wide variety of digital fabrication, electronics, molding,casting and composites practices, and build skills in a short amount of time.

The program provides her with advanced digital fabrication instructions through a unique, hands-on curriculum and access to technological tools and resources. Each week, Loise plans and executes a new project of her choice in accordance to the provided topic then documents her progress, resulting in a personal portfolio of technical accomplishments.

 Loise etching her PCB

Loise etching her PCB

With her instructor, Felicity Mecha, they view and participate in global lectures broadcasted from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) every Wednesdays at 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm EAT. In addition, they have two lab days each week which are scheduled in our electrical and mechanical lab where they have access the digital fabrication equipment and personal help with projects.

Among Loise projects this week, is making an ultrasonic sensor as an input device for a micro-controller board. As her 8th week, she can move easily around the machines and the chemical process of making a PCB.”I can easily make a PCB from scratch and operate some of the machines with ease. Am actually getting better and better!” she proudly explains to me as she solders her second board.

Her long term plan is to have a personal project that impacts the society. With her background in computer science, she hopes to merge both hardware and software to broaden her tech possibilities.


Tech start-up puts Kenya on industrial path

Source; My Gov

Issue No. 0062

Start-up blazes Kenya’s path to Fourth Industrial Revolution

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Kenya seeks to embrace industrialisation both under Vision 2030 and within the recently underlined Big Four initiative. Yet, not many Kenyans know that a local enterprise, Gearbox, is already blazing the trail on the manufacturing front. The Director of the Government Advertising Agency (GAA), Ngari Gituku, sought audience with the founding Executive Director of Gearbox Ltd., Dr Kamau Gachigi, and this is what he had to say.

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What’s your background?

Before launching Gearbox I taught engineering at the University of Nairobi for about 15 years. During that period, I consistently observed that a good number of our graduate engineers —and scores others outside engineering circles— bubble with ideas ripe for commercialization. However, they lack the means and an explicit support system to commercialize, or, at least, monetize their ideas. As many as 700-800 engineers graduate from Kenyan universities every year. While at the University of Nairobi, assisted by former PS Prof. Crispus Kiamba, I started the Fab Lab through funding from the government. I later left the university to start Gearbox with the crew at the iHub, Kenya’s best-known software space.

What does Gearbox set out to achieve?

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Gearbox has a collection of digital fabrication machines that are available to interested parties on a shared-access basis. Essentially, we operate like a gym. We grant access to people on a membership basis. One exciting aspect about Gearbox is that it plugs directly into the sensibilities and hallmarks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR. Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum, captures the highlights of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in a memorably succinct manner. He argues in a 2016 paper titled, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond’, that, “The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”.

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What kinds of things have been made at Gearbox?

One of our engineers, Kimali Muthoka, designs the circuitry for the big three speed governor suppliers in Kenya. This means we are capable of making the speed governor prototype at Gearbox, ensure it works well and then send it off to China (yes, China) when large numbers are needed. Douglas Omondi, on the other hand, was contracted to design and make 50 circuits for a pay-as-you-go system for solar water pumping. This feat was accomplished within two weeks, yet it would have taken perhaps two months had it been outsourced. Over time, at Gearbox, we’ve made Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines such as plasma cutters and wood routers in-house, both which are selling in Nairobi like hot cakes. Esther Mwangi, who is not an engineer, came with the idea of creating vending machines to retail sanitary towels. Her idea was transformed into 4 prototypes that allowed her to set up a pilot. She is now setting up 50 machines equipped with Internet of Things (IoT) for remote management of sales and accounts through the Internet. My current Head of Engineering, William Maluki, is at Pier 9, a cutting-edge facility in Silicon Valley in California, developing an automated pipe-bender for the African market. Meanwhile, my former students set up a company that is building 3D printers. One of their inventions was used to print models for the famous surgery in which twins who were conjoined at the spine were successfully separated at the Kenyatta National Hospital by a team of local doctors a while back.

Kenyans have distinguished themselves as a very receptive lot when it comes to innovation in ICT. How do you propose to imbue that same spirit into industrialization?

It’s already there! In my line of work I always come across amazing young people—and many not so young—who are making all manner of things; sufurias, cassava flour, condiments, washing machines - you name it! The trouble is hardware tends to be less sexy than ICT. Believe me, there are people doing all manner of production in this country of ours, in spite of enormous handicaps. With only a few well-placed policy implementations, our craftsmen and women can collectively make a huge impact on joblessness and our GDP. The role of Gearbox is to introduce these people to modern tools that can pave the way for product improvement. By modern I have in mind electronics control systems in manufacturing such as robotics, payment systems automated through the Internet of things, Start-up blazes Kenya’s path to Fourth Industrial Revolution block-chain solutions, augmented and virtual reality. We teach all these using intense short courses. We also partner on the same with world leaders such as Autodesk, Dassault Systems and Microsoft.

India started her industrial journey with textile manufacturing. What is Kenya’s best bet as a starting point?

One of the central tenets of economics is the notion of comparative advantage, which in my mind can result in handicapped thinking. Japan, a nation without iron ore or coal, went from zero steel production in the 1960s to being the biggest steel producer globally in the 1980s. Taiwan went from zero electronics to become at one point the global leader in the production of integrated circuits (ICs). Most Far Eastern nations have developed similar successes in areas that they apparently had no historical strength. But if you look more closely, the common thread is that they developed and then leveraged the most important resource any nation has - its human resource. This is through policies that encouraged State sponsorship of their own citizens in the best universities in countries in North America and Europe, encouraging them to gain work experience in industries in those countries after graduating, and then supporting them to come back and set up industries is a proven and winning strategy. Recently I met a Kenyan who set up a business in the US after his studies in hi-tech materials science. Tony Githinji is the CEO of 4Wave, whose customer base includes companies like Samsung, and has facilities in Asia too. He is now getting set to move his base from the U.S. to Kenya. Through companies such as his I believe we can gain strengths in areas that are considered to be out of our league as a so-called third world country. His products could conceivably include cuttingedge energy sources based on materials like graphene, and even super-conductors.

Among the nations of the world that have embraced industrialisation to a good showing, which ones offer the most immediate inspiration to Kenya and in what exact ways?

I immediately think of Brazil and India. I am privileged to serve as the chair of the Board of the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) and we recently did benchmarking tours in both these countries. It is amazing what they’ve achieved. As you know, Brazil produces Embraer aircraft, through an intentional government-supported industrial endeavor. India makes just about everything and lays particular emphasis on human resource development. In both cases the deliberate development of human resource right from the technical-skilled person on the factory floor to Ph.D. is prioritized. This approach is critical for industrialization. What they’ve done, we can do.

What’s in the horizon for Gearbox?

We are very keen to expand the range of machines we can offer our members, and to also expand our activities to the informal sector so that, for example, those who fabricate metal and wood can upgrade their operations to compete with imports. We’re also looking to get into printed circuit board assembly and fabrication on a contract basis. That way, circuits for speed governors are manufactured in Kenya.

Generation tech innovation

Young people have been in the recent years taken stride steps towards disrupting the known tech social comfort and aligning themselves towards industry 4.0; Fourth Industrial Revolution. They are putting their own twist on the ways that technology gets turned into products. From school curriculum, tech competitions and early exposure they are stimulated to throw today’s technology in every aspect of the day to day activities.

 While they have an appetite for global trends, African music, fashion, art and literature, Gearbox is encouraging solving of local problems by applying innovative local young talents.

Gearbox as a tech community has been resource center for giving technological empowerment mainly by offering training in future technology systems (AI and Robotics, IOT, Embedded systems among others) and mastery in industry leading tools as well as administering guidance and mentorship to innovative minds.

This has overwhelmingly attracted university and secondary school students, a clear indication of the depth of interest and passion among the young people. Here, they have an opportunity to learn and build human centered designs around a problem and gain skills to work on individual projects.

-Students from International School of Kenya, in Grade 10 researching on their projects--

-Alex working on his project Bike Box, a generator in a box for motorbikes-

- Emanuele Chiti working on building a ball launcher-

More so, before building prototypes, they are given a moment to present their ideas whereby they are challenged on different levels of innovation to help them broaden their minds and design around long term and sustainable solutions.

-Form three students from Nova Pioneer pitch their ideas at Gearbox-

-Ryan Napo, pitching his idea of using Artificial Intelligence and Virtual and Augmented Reality to treat drug addiction-

-Adrian Ndiritu, pitching his idea of using Virtual Reality in teaching history-

-Isaac Muendo,introduces us to his company Stag Chat Studio that employs embedded systems to give e-learning applications for smart devices-

We acknowledge that children and youth have the greatest stake in the future so they must be engaged as agents of innovation and change. Young people around the world have made valuable contributions to sustainable development, and we shall keep promoting the free flow of innovative talent.

  A visit from Young Engineers, a center that exposes young minds to tech possibilities by use of legos

A visit from Young Engineers, a center that exposes young minds to tech possibilities by use of legos

Start-ups bet on 3D tech to make surgery cheaper



Two Kenyan start-ups, Micrive Infinite and African Born 3D (AB3D), are investing in 3D printing in a bid to help companies and hospitals cut production costs and significantly improve efficiency.

Micrive Infinite, a medical technology company is enhancing the planning process and improving the outcome of surgeries by use of 3D printing which a study found can reduce the amount of time needed for an operation by 25 per cent. This saves a bout $2,700 per surgery.

In 3D printing, the surgeon is able to study the physical model of the X-ray, plan their cuts, educate the patient and practise before the surgery.

“If it is an instrument that they need to use and they are not familiar with, we make a replica of it and they are able to practise beforehand. If it is a new technique that they want to rehearse, we can look for a similar case and print a physical model or we can get the patient’s information and create one. This will improve the outcome of the surgery,” said Chris Muraguri, the founder of Micrive Infinite.

Last year, the company created a 3D model of a patient who required surgery on a cancerous tumour.

“Initially, the patient required four surgeries but when we created the physical model of the tumour and anatomy of the patient, it was found that one would suffice, which was successful. It was performed by Professor Symon Guthua, a maxillofacial surgeon, and chief surgery consultant at the University of Nairobi,” said Muraguri.

In a study conducted by the University of California San Diego on the impact of 3D printing on conducting surgeries, participants were divided into two groups — one group used 3D-printed models to study the surgery beforehand while the other studied the X-ray images.

The surgeries for those that used 3D were 38 to 45 minutes shorter and the reduction in time would translate into at least $2,700 in savings, reported the researchers.

Micrive Infinite, which was founded in 2015, has invested approximately $16,000 (Sh1,601,608) in research and development in a bid to perfect the process and ensure that it meets the standards of surgeons and patients. So far, it has participated in approximately 35 surgeries but is seeking $250,000 in investment to fully penetrate the market.

Besides improving surgeries outcomes, saving cost and time, 3D printing cuts the production costs for companies in the manufacturing sector.

“It is very different from 2D printing. Whereas the outcome of 2D is paper, with 3D a company can make the actual product, which can be used immediately, cutting production costs. It goes from idea to an actual product,” said Roy Ombatti, founder of AB3D.

Opel, a German automobile manufacturer, in 2015 reported that it had reduced its assembly tool production by up to 90 per cent with the use of 3D printing that enabled it to create the tools in less than 24 hours.

The assembly tools are used to attach the different components of a car. It noted that 3D printing had enabled it to customise them and produce more complex shapes that are adaptable to the different car models.

Also, 3D printing allows Opel to involve its assembly-line workers in the design process thereby improving efficiency.

AB3D, which builds the 3D printers locally from recycled electronic materials, was founded in 2015 and has so far worked with several institutions including the Makini Schools and International School of Kenya.

Last year it printed the 3D model that surgeons at the Kenyatta National Hospital practised on in order to safely separate conjoined twins.

“We were fortunate to get a short-term investor who bought us all the equipment that cost Sh700,000 needed to make the machines. For us to gain a footing, we spend a year improving them so as to launch them into the market. In 2015, we sold two machines and we began generating a little revenue. So far, we have sold 58 machines,” said Ombati.

“The 3D machine including filaments, products need to create the physical model, goes for Sh47,000, and when purchased we train them on how to operate the machine.”

Nick Quintong -- How PayGo Energy uses industrial IoT to bring clean cooking fuel to the masses

Nick Quintong is the cofounder and CEO of PayGo Energy, a technology company in Nairobi, Kenya, that has developed a smart meter allowing pay-as-you-go distribution of liquid propane cooking gas in East Africa. In this interview, he tells us exactly how that works, how the industrial Internet of Things can drive efficiencies in global supply chains that make previously unaffordable goods accessible to low-income consumers, and how the team started out manually weighing cylinders in their first customers' homes to test the market before building any custom hardware.

Simon Wachira -- How I got started with digital fabrication in Kenya

Simon Wachira is the founder of Proteq Automation, an advanced manufacturing company that makes CNC machines in Nairobi, Kenya, and the former Head of Engineering at Gearbox. In this interview, Simon tells us about his inspiration to become an entrepreneur, how he discovered digital fabrication, what manufacturers in East Africa are using his CNC machines to make, and how he balances the needs of investors and his company's cash flow while educating customers in a very new market.

Tech and art: The culture of digital art

The fast pace of technology is bleeding into every aspect of contemporary life, including emerging artists experimenting with digital technology trying to make sense of the surrounding world.

Both technology and art define and continue to reshape the world we live in. Re-imagining what we know as real or as a solid ground, pushes not only our opinions and understandings of nature to the limits, but with new inventions and experiments, both the mind and the body, the language, and the world itself seems to be making room for a different sphere and fresh rules.

Governed by the new aesthetics, the virtual, the scientific and the logic that is beyond belief, technology in art challenges our perceptions and that is what creativity and science are all about.

The change of artworks’ nature along with the shift in the public interaction and the reshaping of the museums and exhibition spaces are making more room today than ever before for some of the most amazing examples of digital art, kinetic pieces, and works that explore the internet and online existence.

Gearbox as a had contracts by artists to aid in their work as shown;

The Drums For Africa logo

Cutting leaves for an artistic mounted metal tree;

The Shofco Project

SHOFCO is an NGO based in a Nairobi slum - Kibera. Their main agenda is to empower local communities by providing social amenities and enterprise fund through community saving models.However, they charge a small fee for running water kiosks that they have built all over the slum.

The cash handling in the various Kiosks along with wastage of water due to spillage was a stumbling block hence SHOFCO in partnership with Safaricom, approached Gearbox for a tech solution.

Gearbox, through contracting department, designed a control panel that integrated cashless system that not only eliminates cash handling but also reduced wastage through accurate metering of dispensed water quantities.

The solar powered integrated service management system can dispense water in different volumes depending on the user’s request. The system also has ten USB charging ports which can only be accessed upon request and offers WIFI services. These services are however accessible to users with valid credited accounts.

Every registered user is assigned a unique bar-code ID which is applied in accessing the services as well as recharging the account. A bar code scanner is used in identifying the user. The system then uses this bar-code to retrieve all the information related to the user from the cloud storage. The system further checks if the user account is credited. 

Currently, the project has been piloted in SHOFCO headquarters,Kibera and will scale to other kiosks.

The cartoon tuned automated programmable school Bell

We are living in the world of automation where all the activities are getting automated through the use of advanced programmable controllers in home automation and industrial automation systems. An automatic school timer system reduces the effort needed to turn on or off an electric bell manually that gives alarm for certain intervals of time based on school timings. This automatic system is a micro-controller based project that uses a simple basic microcontroller, which makes this product affordable.

Oki Agaya Okwiri discovered his interest in building unique bells in 4th year when he built a simple bell for then Lavington Primary school during his volunteer work. After completing his bachelor’s in electrical and electronics engineering from Nairobi University, he got exposed to Gearbox that gave him the tools and resources to build better. With Nick Kimali, an electrical engineer, they built an automated programmable school bell for Kids Zone Educational Center at Kikuyu, Nairobi.

This automatic school bell timer system is designed using a basic microcontroller for managing time intervals. Read or Write memory is also necessary for storing bell timings, and it’s uploaded with melodious tunes for a ring tone (cartoon tunes) that is easily adaptable to the the kids.

In future, Oki will improve the system to provide for software and a device to give user flexibility in uploading their school timetable and offer display of information in a seven-segment display for a user interface purpose.


Creating the right environment for inventions to flourish

  Creating the right environment for inventions to flourish

Creating the right environment for inventions to flourish

By Eng. Brenda Livoi, Mechanical Lead, Gearbox

The Global Innovation Index (GII), which measures growth in the multi-faceted dimensions of innovation, placed Kenya among the top 5 most innovative countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2017. In East Africa, Kenya was in the lead with a score of 31 points, followed by Tanzania (28), Rwanda (27), Uganda (27) and Burundi (21) according to the survey. Kenya’s advancements in FinTech, Telecoms, and other sectors, have been lauded across the continent and around the world. Yet to maintain this upward trajectory, a balanced regulatory framework and support from a diverse set of actors will be critical to eliminate the risk of slowing innovation.

In the fiscal year 2016/17, the Kenyan Government spent Sh3.5 billion (equivalent to 0.05 per cent of its gross domestic product or GDP) on research, science, technology and innovation combined. The adoption of the Science, Technology, and Innovation Act 2013 prioritises the development of science, technology and innovation through the Kenya National Innovation Agency, the National Research Fund (NRF), and the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation. The Act also provides that the Kenyan Treasury should allocate two per cent of the country’s GDP to the NRF, which is yet to become a reality.

Apart from funding, Kenyan entrepreneurs often lack dedicated resources that are critical for product design and development.

Many entrepreneurs in the country have an abundance of brilliant ideas, but lack the tools and space to design and make products, and the training and mentorship to advance their enterprises. For hardware entrepreneurs, it is especially difficult to develop polished prototypes that can attract external investment and drive business growth.

With an eye on this market gap, Gearbox, a centre for hardware prototyping, stepped in to provide entrepreneurs with the appropriate tools and training that will improve their creative journey. With a financial grant from the Autodesk Foundation and donated software from Autodesk, Gearbox can provide mechanical and electrical engineers and makers with the software and training they need to create - while saving them time and money.

Founded and facilitated by qualified engineers and certified trainers, Gearbox provides a space for individuals who are skilled but do not have access to the kind of machinery that they need to make their products. Members have access to welding equipment, 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters and more.

The rapid evolution of technology is disrupting almost every industry providing Kenyan entrepreneurs with significant benefits in terms of cost savings and improved design and development. In the world of engineering, makers can shave off half the time spent on analysis and decision-making by leveraging new technologies. Reliance on traditional project management tools often results in lost productivity. By understanding the unique needs of designers and engineers, Autodesk has built cloud collaboration tools geared for design and engineering projects.

Several start-ups addressing different societal needs are leveraging modern tools and space provided by Gearbox and are achieving success.

The EsVendo Project is a good example. Created by Kenyan social entrepreneur Esther Mwangi, it aims to increase women's access to low cost sanitary products through the introduction of custom vending machines for as little as ten shillings. The project targets rural and urban settlements that have limited access to shopping malls, hospitals, and schools and has created a local solution to an issue by leveraging specific hardware technology. In addition, EsVendo has integrated vending tools with mobile SMS technology to educate and inform customers, and lower the cost of sanitary towel delivery to women living in Kenyan slums.

For innovation to continue to flourish in Kenya, it is essential to create an environment that is conducive for entrepreneurs to make their ideas a reality. No single party can accomplish this objective alone. The public sector, private sector, and academia need to work together to cover existing gaps in physical resources, mentorship, and financing to keep fuelling the upward trajectory of innovation in the country.

Hardware solutions for Human-Wildlife conflict

Conflicts between people and wildlife currently rank amongst the main threats to conservation in Africa. In Kenya, for instance, with much of the wildlife living outside protected areas, one of the real challenges to conservation is how to enhance and sustain coexistence between people and wild animals.

Gearbox joined other stakeholders in a community conservation program at Amboseli that was aimed at giving solutions to Human Wildlife Conflict. In collaboration with Wildlife direct, we built two prototypes to support the cause, which were successfully tested during this period;

 Flashing lights - The flashing lights systems are motion activated lights that blink severally once a trespassing elephant approroaches it. This intimidates the elephants and keeps them away from peoples territories.

A chillifumer – Since chillies irritate elephants, providing an unpleasant experience, the chillifumer generates chili fumes that keep the elephants away without harm.

At Amboseli with students from Princeton's university, Columbian university, American university and Wildlife direct

Gearbox continues to offer hardware solutions to local problems.

Hackaton at Kenyatta University


Gearbox is adding training to the membership and contracting services it provides. With the training came the hackathon idea to help spread word on the training and the courses we will be providing.

On 26th January 2018 we held our very first Hackathon at Kenyatta University, at the Kenyatta Business Innovation and Incubation Center Training room. With over 70 registrations for the hackathon, we had a turn out of 33 students. A brief introduction was given by our Head of Contracting Eng. William Maluki shortly after Eng. Nicholus Kimali talked in detail about the training and the type of courses we will be providing.

To kick off the hackathon and with no limitation on the type of projects they were to work on, students were put in groups of three.

  Students brainstorming

Students brainstorming

After about two hours presentations were made by the different groups and winners were announced. With an initial intention of providing four slots for sponsorship; two full scholarship and two partial, whereby the partially sponsored students would pay an administration fee of sh.15,000 instead of the full training fee of sh. 40,000 for students, we ended up giving nine slots! Two full sponsorships and seven partial sponsorships.

The full sponsorships were given to Sylvia Ngari and Fidel Makatia whereas the partial sponsorships were given to Cynthia Thuo, Mercelyne Kipngetich, Martin Wabende, Kiplimo Elijah, Tony Alvin, Ronald Kimutai and Jonah Ethan Mutamale.

  The judges and the winners (full and partial scholarship) 

The judges and the winners (full and partial scholarship) 

  Full scholarship winners Sylvia Ngari and Fidel Makatia

Full scholarship winners Sylvia Ngari and Fidel Makatia

Brenda Livoi on leading Kenya’s largest innovation hub

By Lindsay Samson, Design Indaba 

The Gearbox Mechanical Lead chats to us about the space and creating more space for women in the African tech sector.


The number of technology hubs across Africa have more than doubled in less than a year, according to Quartz. One of the spaces that is adding to this advancement is Kenya’s Gearbox.

An initiative aimed at improving the ecosystem for hardware entrepreneurship in Kenya, Gearbox is one of the largest maker spaces in Eastern Africa.

Founded and facilitated by qualified engineers and certified trainers, it provides a space for individuals who are skilled but do not have access to the kind of machinery that they need in order to make their products.

Members have access to welding equipment, 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters and more. More than this though, Gearbox also offers a range of opportunities for training, mentorship, and networking while also hosting community forums and workshops in an effort to further their reach.

The mechanical lead at Gearbox is Brenda Livoi. She graduated in mechanical engineering from University of Nairobi and now occupies one of the top positions at Gearbox. Though it is a position that she tells me she derives immense fulfillment from, she remains one of the few women in this kind of leading role in the sector.

Still, things are improving, she says, citing the larger amount of women students who she has seen come into Gearbox and make their mark in the environment. “I think women have it in mind that they are trying to make it in a space that is not historically theirs, so they work extra hard and always give their best and are very hands on,” she adds. 

Take The Esvendo Project. Created by Kenyan social entrepreneur Esther Mwangi, it aims to increase women's access to low cost sanitary products through the introduction of custom vending machines for as little as a ten shilling coin.

One of numerous startups initiated at Gearbox, it is targeting rural and urban settlements that have limited access to shopping malls, hospitals and schools and has created a local solution to an issue through the leveraging of specific hardware technology.


Located within an industrial area in Nairobi that is easily accessible, Livoi describes Gearbox as “a factory of factories.” An enormous, 23,000 square foot space, members are able to utilise the shared workspaces and machinery, while numerous companies of varying natures can rent permanent office spaces there as well. This creates a particularly unique ecosystem, wherein individuals and businesses can network, share their ideas and potentially create a meaningful commodity together.

Started by a group of local Kenyan “makers” and education professionals – including executive director Dr. Kamau Gachigi – Gearbox was created in response to the vast number of good ideas that they saw developed by students that simply ended up being discarded due to the lack of resources to further them.

“People have ideas,” says Livoi.

“In Africa, many countries are still developing but people still have ideas. But what they don’t have is a place where their ideas can be supported and nurtured and where they can delve further into the business, technology and marketing aspect of things.”

According to Livoi, when accepting new members, Gearbox looks at two things. First, they require a degree of self-motivation from those they admit and, secondly, they want individuals who – whether they possess previous training or not – are open to learning new ways of processing.

“The team is just here to support the makers and make sure that their goal or idea can come to fruition,” says Livoi. “It’s all about the idea and whether you are willing to put in the work to make it happen.”


In an effort to further expand their reach toward the nation’s students, Gearbox launched the “Fab Academy” programme in early 2017. An extension of the Fab Labs programme – which began as an outreach project from MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms and has grown into a global network of more than 500 labs – the Fab Academy teaches principles and applications of digital fabrication. More importantly, it takes these teachings to those that can’t necessarily reach Gearbox's Nairobi location, increasing the general access to these lessons in innovation.

At the heart of Gearbox is the notion that knowledge sharing can bring about innovative solutions to the challenges that we as a continent face. By fostering a do-it-yourself spirit within a community, they’re making it possible for anyone to manufacture what they want to right here within our borders. For this reason, Livoi doesn’t think it will be very long before the term ‘made in Africa’ is applicable to traditionally imported goods, but she’s firm in her assertion that for this to happen we need to start believing in the potential of our people and putting our money where our mouths are.

“Sometimes we don’t believe our next door neighbour can produce what we need, preferring to keep importing from China," she explains. "Governments need to support local industries so that we aren’t so reliant on cheap imports, but if we don’t start believing in ourselves, it’s going to be very hard to convince outsiders to believe in us. Through training and providing a space for experimentation, we at Gearbox open peoples eyes and make it easier for them to believe that it actually is possible to do it on our own, easily and cheaply.”


Diversity, Relevance, Globalism in the IoT

Reviewing ThingsConNBO

In a period where there is an estimation of 4.9 billion sensors connected to the Internet, the topic Internet of Things is bound to rise, and it did. On 8th December 2017, we held a conference in collaboration with Thingscon at Gearbox, the ThingsConNBO. 

By Simon Höher

On 8th December, we held ThingsCon Nairobi. It was a special event for ThingsCon as an initiative — but also for me personally, as we pushed for this to happen ever since the very first ThingsCon in 2014. Also, ThingsConNBO took place exactly one week after ThingsConAMS, which allowed me to continue the discussions that we had in Amsterdam — and get a clear understanding about the shared views, and the differences between the European and the African perspective, when it comes to building a responsible Internet of Things.

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On a general note, ThingsConNBO was one-day event, supported by Gearbox, a Nairobi-based maker space, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), and r0g agency. It featured a pretty diverse set of speakers and projects on stage: from Gabi Agustini from OLABI, São Paolo, to David Li from Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, to Stephen Kovacs from r0g Berlin, to many incredibly dedicated speakers and entrepreneurs from Africa, including Jeff Muthondo of BRCK, Nick Quintong of PayGo Energy, and  from South Sudan, now Uganda, and Abdulmalik Adam, Elizabeth Ondula from Kenya, all making for a throughly inspiring and fun event.

Toward a Responsible IoT

I held the opening keynote on perspectives “Toward a responsible IoT”, underlining the growing relevance of collectively understanding and discussing the things and systems we are building. This includes the pitfalls and challenges that come with it, namely Gadgetism, Vanity Products, Hype Circles, Security and Privacy concerns. As a perspective I highlighted the importance of 1. Purpose and Principles 2. Tools & Methods and 3. Openness & Diversity to address these challenges.

Lessons Learnt:

1. Growing Diversity

As Gabi highlighted in her opening, the role of diversity, inclusion, and openness cannot be overstated when building global networks (of things). This is not only true when it comes to deciding how we go about decision in design and manufacturing of IoT products, but also and maybe more importantly when deciding why, for whom, and by whom those products are built. I’m all the more happy, that with ThingsConNBO we managed to broaden our own circle of discussion a little bit, learning and involving voices from thoroughly different contexts and scenarios. And while this diversity might very well lead to conflict, inefficiencies and costs along the way, I wonder how we can go ahead and ensure that the benefits of clearly identifying and understanding specific problems of users and communities, surely outweighs these trade-offs. Applying and embracing open and participatory design practices can provide a robust way forward to address these challenges and include all stakeholders from step one.


If anything, this helps us to do one thing:

2. Identifying Relevant problems

Gadgets, Vanity, and Innovation

As David Li pointed out, building things just doesn’t cut it anymore. Shenzhen’s ecosystem is way ahead of the world, making for 90% of the global manufacturing of electronic devices, with products and iterations churned out at every thinkable niche and alternation. It i a somewhat brute force way to innovation, that might herald actual results, its downsides are apparent — with vanity products and seemingly useless gadgets rolling from the belt.

Dr. Kamau Gachigi, Founder of Gearbox, pointed out, that what seems to be a Gadget (as in: and useless product) here does not mean to for it to be a Gadget elsewhere. Usefulness lies in the eye of the beholder and certainly the beholder in Africa is rather open to re-using tools and products at hand. 

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But talking about Gadgets, this is where we as designers, entrepreneurs, and strategist might come in — and where the power of diverse and open decision making processes comes to full play: If Shenzhen is the global work bench, it allows everyone else to focus on what really matters on the ground: identifying relevant and pressing problems that are worthy (and worthwhile) to be solved. This, in fact, seems to be one of the main take aways of ThingsCon Nairobi:

The basis for building a human-centered Internet of Things is to identify relevant problems.

Turns out, emerging markets, tend to be full of them:

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A particular take on those specific and highly relevant problems was provided by the team around Jaiksanda José and Abdulmalik Adam, who both fled from Juba, South Sudan, due to violence and unrest. They joined forces with Berlin-based r0g agency for open culture and designed the „Access to Skills and Knowledge Kit“ (#Asktoek), basically a portable maker space, that not only allows people in refugee camps and equally dire situations to proactively solve their own challenges. It also provides powerful and hands-on STEM education and is completely open itself. Its an inspiring project that adds a new level to „building a responsible IoT“. Applying Open Source principles to conflict settlement, peace and even state building seem incredibly challenging and promising at the same time, and I would love to dig deeper on that end.

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And #Askotek is not alone: products and companies like PayGo, allowing to micro-transactions for Gas due to a connected valve, and BRCK, a rugged, autonomous wifi-router to connect “the last mile” go in the same vein: while the actual hardware might not be built here, the problems are identified on the ground, and the solutions, too. This shift has powerful consequences.


3. Hardware Globalization 2.0?

The growing need to identify problems worth solving in combination with a global manufacturing powerhouse, called Shenzhen, not only provides easy-as-ever starting grounds for hardware companies around the world. It also shifts the relevance of businesses toward a thorough understanding of problems in specific contexts. A human-centered business is one, that solves relevant problems on the ground — and make use all whenever resources are available to bring that solution to market, however global those solutions might be.

I was happy to join in quite a few discussion at and after the event to explore, what an innovation economy that de-coupled understanding and manufacturing could look like, for better or worse: As promising these opportunities might seem to local entrepreneurs, as dire the consequences of a re-vamped industrial globalization might be, from questionable trickle-down effects in the manufacturing side of things to vanity products and equally challenging competitive effects in communities around the globe.

I can’t wait to pursue these questions further with the truly global ThingsCon community and beyond. For the record, ThingsCon NBO was part 1 of a back-to-back event. Round 2 will happen in 2018 in Germany and continue these discussions. You should come and join us!


An estimated 4.9 billion sensors are connected to the Internet and that number is estimated reach 38 to 50 billion in just five short years. This is what’s broadly powering the Internet of Things (IoT). Connected cars, connected logistics, connected clothing,connected everything.

Gearbox has partnered with Thingscon to bring you the leading conference on IOT connected devices and the future of hardware.

Register now and join us for a day of discussion, talks and hands on workshops about the future of Internet Of Things

Mingle with over 3oo delegates in the diverse community of designers, startups, researchers, investors, artists, IOT companies and so much more

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A quick preview of the previous years ,IOT conferences;

Makerspaces for Hardware Entrepreneurs

This variety sheds light on the real power of a makerspace — it does not tell you what to build, or even necessarily how to build it. It asks its members what they would build for themselves. This does not guarantee that everything made within its walls will be “high-impact” — tinkering is an essential part of learning to use new tools. Gearbox has seen plenty of 3D printed toys, surfboards, and other fun projects made in its workshop. Many of these items are being built by the same people who are also working on making cooking fuel affordable to people living on less than sh.200 a day (PayGo Energy), or sanitary towel dispensers for women and girls living in slum communities (Esvendo). The fact that the community Gearbox serves are making these things themselves is what gives meaning to the phrase “local solutions for local problems.”

  Wandia solders the control board for a PCB etching monitor in the electronics lab at Gearbox Lite.

Wandia solders the control board for a PCB etching monitor in the electronics lab at Gearbox Lite.

Turning the things they make into economic impact requires a specific kind of makerspace, however. While it is open to everyone regardless of what they are making, Gearbox is designed to serve the needs of hardware entrepreneurs — those launching a business around designing and making physical, manufacturable products. Broadly speaking, we’ve found three things that make a makerspace useful to hardware entrepreneurs in Kenya: space, tools, and people.


The space needs to be physically large enough to build large projects (like a farm-scale biogas digester), host a small team, handle inventory, or set up low-volume assembly lines. It needs to be polished enough to host meetings and welcome clients, and should have amenities like conference rooms and breakout spaces. At 100 square feet per member, 20,000 square feet is a rough lower boundary for a space with 200 active members — enough to begin to build a viable sustainability model for the space itself.


The equipment needs to be of professional quality. While consumer-grade laser cutters, 3D printers, and desktop CNC machines are getting better every year, few can stand up to 12 hours of daily use by members of varied skill levels. A makerspace’s equipment gets beat up fast, and the tools need to be able to handle abuse, especially when replacement parts can take weeks or months to arrive from overseas.


Keeping all of that equipment in working order requires a full-time professional staff. The difference between a well-tuned band saw and one with a wobbly blade can be the difference between a prototype that’s polished enough to show to an investor, or hours of struggle to make anything that doesn’t look like an amateur affair. Gearbox’s staff don’t just keep the machines working — they teach members why and where details and precision matter; they design and build prototypes for contracting clients; and they make sure that Gearbox is always a friendly and welcoming space to everyone, no matter their background. They are at the heart of everything Gearbox does, and the main reason members and clients come back.

These three things — a physically large space, high quality equipment, and a full-time professional staff — are the key components of a makerspace for hardware entrepreneurs, and assembling them in a place like Kenya is not easy. Tools and equipment are hard to find and expensive to import, infrastructure like electricity or internet are unreliable, regulatory processes like starting a company or nonprofit are lengthy and opaque, and engineering talent can be hard to find and harder to keep when competing with industry. A fully equipped, 20,000 square-foot or larger space will cost $3 to $5 million dollars to build. Anything less is likely to fall short of the goal of helping entrepreneurs take their ideas from prototype to market at any significant scale.