The Chicken Brooder among winners ISHOW 2018

Poultry farming is done by almost 80% of the agricultural sector however, the problem of high mortalities in chicks due to temperature fluctuations especially at night, carbon monoxide poisoning and stunted growth even with enough feed has led to financial losses and high stress levels since one has to wake up at 4am to ensure the chicks are fine.

Arinifu is a company on the fore front of agricultural innovation to promote sustainable poultry farming. To curb this problem, they built the smart chicken brooder, an environmental controller for small scale poultry farmers.

The hardware is fitted with sensors that monitor the environmental conditions and a processor that determines the requirements of the chicks and is automatically able to adjust the requirements to optimal levels.

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It has real time sms where the farmer is notified of a problem and reminders of when the chicks need to be vaccinated.

The chicken brooder has already been piloted and being used by farmers who are happy that the death rate of chicks has been reduced, the growth rate is high and the feeds consumed is relatively low.

Arinifu under George Chege has participated in the ISHOW 2017 and 2018 where it finally emerged among the winners in the ISHOW 2018.

 George Chege receiving an award an ISHOW

George Chege receiving an award an ISHOW

Watch their story;

Data Integrated wins popular vote at The Mest Africa Summit Challenge


 Data Integrated won the popular vote (audience vote), at the MEST Africa Summit Challenge held on 20th June, 2018 in South Africa. We were also placed second favourite by the judges at the competition that had 4 participating teams from across the African region.

Mary Mwangi our Chief Executive Officer made the impressive pitch in Capetown, South Africa. She was accompanied by our Chief Operating Officer, Anson Knausenberger. Former NTV anchor and now BBC presenter, Larry Madowo was the host of the competition.

“We were very excited to get the recognition and to be selected among the top contenders. We believe this is only the beginning to many other wins,” says Mary Mwangi, the CEO and founder of Data Integrated.

The company has 3 flagship brands namely, MobiTill Epesi, a public transport system, Mapato, an SME payroll system and MobiTill POS, a point of sale for SME’s.

The winner of the Cape town competition was Accounteer from Nigeria and took home the prize money of $50,000. Others that were on the competition were Ghana’s Cowtribe and South Africa’s Swift Vee.

Data Integrated was representing the East African region after winning at the regional level. The competition began in April, 2018 with more than 800 entries made from various start-ups.

The Summit, in partnership with Facebook, MTN, Merck and GHL Bank, is in its third year and brought together leading global investors, entrepreneurs and executives in African tech to discuss trends impacting the continent.

The event was hosted by the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) – which has now been active in Africa for 10 years.

The Challenge was a highlight of the closing day of the MEST Africa Summit, which brought together stakeholders from Africa, Silicon Valley and Europe to network and discuss trends, challenges and opportunities affecting markets across the continent, under the theme “The Year of the African Scaleup?”

Gearbox awards ISHOW Finalists 2018

In partnership with Gearbox, the Lemelson Foundation, Villgro India, Villgro Kenya, Engineering for Change, Form labs and Catapult Design, ASME’s 2018 Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) was hosted in Nairobi 9th – 11th May 2018.

The event held at Azure hotel saw 9 teams of social enterprises from across Europe and Africa attend the competition with projects that gave customized solutions to problems in different industries; agriculture, health, energy production among others.

 ISHOW 2018 finalists in Nairobi

ISHOW 2018 finalists in Nairobi

Among the top winners was SimGas, a Dutch enterprise that offers affordable, high-quality biogas systems for household use. Their Biogas Milk Chiller provides off-grid biogas-powered milk cooling on-farm, allowing smallholder dairy farmers without access to electricity to store, deliver and sell the highest possible quality of raw milk and increase their income.

Bentos Energy followed closely with their project of offering sustainable energy solutions through recycling of bio waste into Eco-friendly green charcoal briquettes. While George Chege, made it to the final 3 with the smart brooder, an environmental control device which ensures the conditions within the brooding space are kept within optimal levels

 Dr. Kamau Gachigi, Executive Director Gearbox, speaking at the ISHOW event

Dr. Kamau Gachigi, Executive Director Gearbox, speaking at the ISHOW event

Finalists walked away with not only the seed grant but a load of resources, connections and insight. Dr. Kamau Gachigi, executive Director for Gearbox, awarded the finalists with a full access membership to Gearbox for 6 months which includes access to resources in terms of space and machinery while ASME offered technical assistance, design and engineering reviews with access to the vast partnership network owned by ISHOW.

This will continue to encourage hardware led social innovation in Africa and across the globe. The next event, ISHOW U.S.A., will take place June 21-22 at the District Architecture Center in Washington, D.C. For more information, or to register, visit

 Gearbox staff showcasing at the Ishow

Gearbox staff showcasing at the Ishow

American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase in Nairobi (ISHOW)


Another evidence to support the notion that Kenya is the country to beat in Africa as far as technology innovation is concerned came recently from an innovation showcase (ISHOW) sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). As far as high tech goes in Africa, Kenya seems to be creating all the good stuff. Who can forget MPesa, the highly successful international Internet payment system?

ASME of course is the leading professional society for mechanical engineers in the world, with headquarters in New York City. The top-ten achievements of the mechanical engineering profession include: the automobile, the Apollo (space) program, power (electricity) generation, agricultural mechanization, the airplane, (computer) integrated-circuit mass production, air-conditioning and refrigeration, computer-aided engineering technology, bioengineering, and the development of codes and standards. Thus, mechanical engineering is synonymous with the development of human civilization. Disciplines such as chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, agricultural engineering, material science and engineering, and aerospace engineering were originally part of mechanical engineering. I became a member of ASME in 1987, rising through the ranks to now be a Fellow of this world renowned professional society.

In the 3 July 2017 article in this column, I reported on “Startup Battlefield Africa Competition,” in which African tech startups will battle it out in Nairobi, Kenya, in a context sponsored by the American company with the name TechCrunch, website, in partnership with Facebook. The overall winner in the competition will take home a cash award of twenty five thousand US dollars ($25,000). For this competition, startups can apply to one of three categories: social good, productivity and utility or gaming and entertainment. As long as your company fits into one of these categories and you meet the eligibility criteria listed in the original article, you are encouraged to apply. Several prominent startups are vying to be crowned the most promising startup in sub-Saharan Africa. The event will be hosted in front of a live audience in Nairobi and prominent judges in each category, with live streaming of the show on TechCrunch and Facebook so the rest of the world can tune in. The Startup Battlefield Africa event will take place on 11 October 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya at a location to be announced.

The ASME ISHOW in Kenya has already taken place; it was held on 25 May 2017 at the Golden Tulip Westlands Nairobi Hotel. The first competition of the 2017 ISHOW season, ISHOW India, was held in Bengaluru in April 2017. A third event, ISHOW USA, took place in the month of June in Washington DC.  

According to the August issue of the Mechanical Engineering magazine published by ASME, at the Kenya event, “10 ISHOW finalists presented prototypes of their hardware-led  innovations to a panel of judges and advisors that included entrepreneurs, academics and founders of venture-funded startup companies.” “The three grand-prize winners  - who hail from Uganda, Ghana, amd Kenya - will share in more than $500,000 in cash prizes and in-kind technical support, including an extensive design and engineering review of their products.” According to ASME magazine, the “Judges and advisors at ISHOW Kenya included Heather Feming, chief executive officer of Catapult Design; Kamau Gachigi, executive director of Gearbox; June Madete from Kenyatta University; Robert Karanja, chief executive officer of Villgro Kenya; and Thomas G. Loughlin, executive director of ASME.” The creators of three new social innovations - a device for detecting malaria, a portable science lab, and a glove that translates sign-language - were named the grand-prize winners at ISHOW Kenya.”

Roy Allela created Sign-io, which is a sign language-to-speech translation glove that has been developed to address the language barrier between sign-language users and the general public. Brian Gitta developed Matibabu, which is a noninvasive device used to test for malaria. It uses custom-made hardware which is then connected to a smartphone to aid easy diagnosis within households; while Charles Antipem created Science Set, which is an affordable, portable, practical and highly scalable science lab that can fit inside the bag and on the desk of students.

The other seven non-winning projects that made the final list were nevertheless quite interesting. I remember how the nurses at a hospital I went to a few months ago in Long Island, New York, had a hard time locating a vein in my arms from which to draw blood for a test. The invention by Emmanuel Kamuhire at ISHOW Kenya would have come in handy! Kamuhire is motivated by the fact that locating a patient’s vein can be difficult and could require some complex skills, and that various devices have been proposed for the purpose, but are “not suitable for low resource settings.” Vein Locator offers a low-cost solution “for first needle success.” Esther Mwangi’s Social Inclusion product increases access to sanitary items like pads, diapers, condoms among others, through locally-produced small-items-vending machines in Kenya. I’ll say ‘Way to Go,’ kids.

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