Modern technology for "Juakali", the informal sector

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa Rising with Gearbox

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

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


READ AN INTERVIEW WITH GEARBOX'S DR. KAMAU GACHIGI

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LVC: What kind of person uses Gearbox?

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

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

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

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

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

Find out how Gearbox is helping people to build an African future. http://www.gearbox.co.ke/

UK trade delegation in Gearbox

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

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

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

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

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STEM and Gearbox academy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green energy technology in Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lumbrick prototype at Gearbox

Lumbrick prototype at Gearbox

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

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

Bentos Energy win Ishow 2018 

Bentos Energy win Ishow 2018 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An automated future.

Chair of the senate Committee on ICT. The Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Junior Academy - Kahush Mutahi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Making a sound detector

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

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

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

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

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

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

See how it works;

Even chicks know there’s such thing as going digital

By Agnes Aineah

William Mutua, a poultry farmer in Tala, Machakos County, says he has lost less than ten chicks since he ventured into poultry keeping, thanks to Digital Smart Brooder. [David Njaaga, Standard]

William Mutua, a poultry farmer in Tala, Machakos County, says he has lost less than ten chicks since he ventured into poultry keeping, thanks to Digital Smart Brooder. [David Njaaga, Standard]

At Unyuani village in Kangundo, hundreds of two-day-old chicks huddle at different spots in a sizeable chicken coup. They are tucked into each other, forming an appealing white mass around a large red feeder lit into sharp scarlet by a lamp hanging about a metre above.

Some are obviously making the best of an afternoon nap after helping themselves from the numerous feeders and drinkers distributed evenly in the lit room that measures about six by five metres.

In the doorway, William Mutua, the farm owner, looks at the napping chicks, admiration all over his face. He is, however, on the lookout to avert a chick that may escape through the door and stray.

“One has to be very careful in here. If it’s not crushing the little birds in your feet, you might lose them when they escape through the doorway and come back infected from outside,” says Mutua.

Mutua says not one of the 510 chicks has been lost from the time he brought them at the chicken coup. Unlike many farmers who have distressing experiences in their initial attempt in poultry farming, his have been stories of success from the first time he gave the venture a shot last year.

He has raised five batches of more than 500 chicks and in each batch, registered up to zero per cent losses. At unfortunate occurrences, he lost one or two chicks, he says.

He tells Smart Harvest that the secret behind his exceptionally successful story is the Digital Smart Brooder, a new technology that automates chicken rearing and is capable of keeping environmental conditions optimum for growth of chicks.

The 26-year-old University of Nairobi graduate also lets us in on how he ventured into poultry farming and the inspiration behind it.

Mutua was the most dissatisfied job seeker in the company of other graduates who sat at a joint in Nairobi deliberating on where to look for employment. That was last year, a year after clearing school.

He had majored in Agricultural Economics and wanted to go into full-time poultry farming. But his hope of establishing a thriving farm dwindled with every interaction he had with distraught poultry farmers who shared their appalling experiences.

That was before he met his would be source of inspiration; a Mama Grace who has a thriving poultry farm in Githurai, Nairobi.

Mutua had heard of inspirational encounters of Mama Grace who started with a handful of chicks to become one of the most successful farmers in Nairobi and sought her counsel before venturing into poultry farming.

“My first move was to look up the best technology in poultry farming and from the internet, I learnt about Arinifu Technologies and procured a digital brooding device from them,” he says.

From the first of 408 chicks, he lost eight chicks, all the rest matured. Within the same month, he bought another batch of 408 chicks and lost only three.

In the first month, he made Sh100,000 from the two batches of chicken he sold at local restaurants where he was offered up to Sh500 for every kilo of chicken meat. He had bought each chick at Sh78.

He admits that with the digital brooder, he has kept losses at bay.

“I have heard many sad stories of friends who lost up to 90 per cent of the chicks they bought. I am lucky because my losses are negligible. Sometimes I keep all my chicks until they mature into chicken for slaughter,” says Mutua.

Special attention

Engineer George Chege from Arinifu, a Nairobi-based tech company that develops agro-based technology including the Digital Smart Brooder says chicks need special attention especially during cold seasons.

“Poultry farmers fear months of June and July because this is the time they lose a lot of chicks owing to the cold weather. They actually avoid buying chicks during this time,” says Chege.

He says the Digital Smart Brooder is an environmental control device which ensures that the conditions in the brooding space, including temperature, are kept within optimum levels.

“This way, we are assuring farmers that they can buy chicks and rear them whatever the season. With the smart brooder, we hope to reduce mortality in chicks to a bearable 10 per cent or less,” says the engineer.

He says that the system is automated, making farming easier since a poultry farmer can monitor the chicks from wherever they are and make necessary decisions.

The device, according to engineer also has features that help alleviate the burden of feeds, which most poultry farmers grapple with.

“When the heat is regulated and the chicks don’t get cold, they do not consume a lot of feeds. This saves the farmer a lot of expenditure on feeds,” says Chege.

So, how does it work?

In the small brooding space at Mutua’s farm, the Digital Smart Brooder consists of four black cables and a white one connected to a small smart box.

Chege explains that the four cables hanging closer to the chicks are temperature sensors responsible for reading temperature changes in the brooding space and also facilitating automatic temperature control in the room.

The white cable hanging a bit higher in the room, according to the technology company’s engineer is the humidity sensor responsible for measuring moisture level of the whole brooding space.

Brooding space

The sensors take readings throughout the brooding space and relay the data to the farmer on a small analogue computer in the smart box.

Farmers avoid disease outbreaks as well as contamination in the brooding space if they keep moisture content at optimum levels, according to the Digital Smart Brooder lead engineer.

“Humidity is the main cause of disease outbreaks in a brooder or chicken coop. It may be difficult for a person to tell the humidity in the brooder space, but with humidity sensors, the system analyses the humidity and will always alert the farmer in case the humidity goes beyond the recommended range,” says Chege.

This smart box, programmed to determine the age of the chicks, also regulates the conditions in the brooding space to meet the chicks’ requirement at that specific age.

“Simply explained, it restarts itself whenever a new batch of chicks are bought into the brooding space. All the farmer does is press a certain button on the digital box and the system starts working afresh. The chicks require different conditions at different ages,” says Chege.

Heating requirements

Also hanging above the ground are lamps that light up the brooding space. The device is able to control the infrared lamps for heating requirements of the chicks.

The device has a smart box which is typically a small analogue computer that relays information to the farmer through Short Message Service (SMS) whenever there is a condition it cannot rectify.

In essence, the smart box has a GSM line that is connected to the farmers own line to facilitate SMS communication between the two.

To provide for insulation and therefore reduce heat loss and save on energy, card boards are placed on top of the brooding space.

Alternatively, sawdust is placed on the floor.

The innovator maintains that temperature is the most important factor in the life of growing chicks.

Unlike traditional brooding methods such as the use of charcoal stove where farmers only estimate the temperature, the digital brooder gathers actual data which is automated to fit temperature requirements.

One Man, His Machine, and a Mission to Take Kenya’s Manufacturing Jobs to the Next Level

William Maluki works on creating his CNC pipe-bending machine in residence at Autodesk Pier 9 Fabrication Workshop.

William Maluki works on creating his CNC pipe-bending machine in residence at Autodesk Pier 9 Fabrication Workshop.

In Kenyan towns large and small, an informal network of craftspeople, autoworkers, and small-scale manufacturers keeps the country’s economy quietly humming.

These fixers and makers create and build whatever’s needed, often with limited resources. Called the Jua Kali, this group of versatile artisans is a vital and growing element of the Kenyan economy, but mass producers and cheap goods from Europe and Asia are threatening their way of life.

However, if William Maluki has his way, the future of at least one Jua Kali group will be secured, perhaps bolstering Kenya’s ad-hoc manufacturing jobs for years to come.

A man Jua Kali worker in Kenya uses a homemade welder. Courtesy Erik Hersman—CC by 2.0 license.

A man Jua Kali worker in Kenya uses a homemade welder. Courtesy Erik Hersman—CC by 2.0 license.

Maluki, head of engineering at makerspace Gearbox in Nairobi, Kenya, is pioneering a new CNC-based pipe bender. Designed for manufacturers of metal frames—think wheelbarrows; steel-tube furniture; or seats for matatus, Kenya’s fleet of privately owned minibuses—this machine will allow makers to create identical frames in less time with precise and consistent output.

“The philosophy is, if the process quality is secured, then the product quality is guaranteed,” Maluki says.

Jua Kali is Swahili for “fierce sun”—an homage to the fact that many of these tradespeople work along busy roadsides, often without a formal shop to shield them from the intense rays bearing down from above. A Jua Kali manufacturer can be one person or a small collective of people producing one-off or small-scale batches of products.

A worker takes advantage of the advanced tools available at the Gearbox makerspace in Nairobi, Kenya. Courtesy Gearbox.

A worker takes advantage of the advanced tools available at the Gearbox makerspace in Nairobi, Kenya. Courtesy Gearbox.

Many of the makers in the Jua Kali sector learn from hands-on experience earned through years of working alongside other makers rather than from formal education or training. Their profit margins are small, but in a country of more than 48 million people, this group manages to make a modest living.

Many of the Jua Kali lack sophisticated equipment—a luxury few can afford. While not entirely rudimentary, the tools at their disposal are light-years away from the CNC machines, 3D printers, and Haas mills of Europe, Asia, and America. In turn, their products are often satisfactory and inexpensive but are sometimes seen as not only cheaper but also of lower quality, and they can’t always compete with imports.

But with Maluki’s pipe-bending machine, these small businesses might soon be more competitive with large-scale mass producers, making a profit and keeping an important economic aspect of Kenya alive.

William Maluki spent four months designing and building his CNC pipe vending machine at the Autodesk Pier 9 Technology Center. Courtesy William Maluki

William Maluki spent four months designing and building his CNC pipe vending machine at the Autodesk Pier 9 Technology Center. Courtesy William Maluki

Unlike most pipe vending machines today, Maluki's machine will be completely electric. Courtesy William Maluki  

Unlike most pipe vending machines today, Maluki's machine will be completely electric. Courtesy William Maluki
 

To be more economically accesible to the Jua Kali, who will often work barely above profit margins, Maluki says his machine will charge by the bend, rather than by the batch of items. Courtesy William Maluki  

To be more economically accesible to the Jua Kali, who will often work barely above profit margins, Maluki says his machine will charge by the bend, rather than by the batch of items. Courtesy William Maluki
 

Maluki plans to harvest the data from his machine's computer to create the second generation of pipe-bending machines to help makers produce faster and cheaper. Courtesy William Maluki  

Maluki plans to harvest the data from his machine's computer to create the second generation of pipe-bending machines to help makers produce faster and cheaper. Courtesy William Maluki
 

Maluki hopes his CNC pipe-bending machine will help people trust the quality of Jua Kali sector products a lot more. Courtesy William Maluki.

Maluki hopes his CNC pipe-bending machine will help people trust the quality of Jua Kali sector products a lot more. Courtesy William Maluki.

“For somebody in the Jua Kali sector, when you’re talking about minimum economic order quantities, it doesn’t really apply,” Maluki says. “They need a machine that allows them the flexibility to produce 10 pieces of an order of their making—at rather the same quality and cost as they would do if they were going to produce maybe 100 of them. I’m trying to give this Jua Kali sector of workers a means, an affordable means, to manufacture whatever it is that they manufacture in huge quantities, cheaply and in repeatable quality.”

Earlier this year, Maluki spent four months designing and building his pipe-bending machine at the Autodesk Pier 9 Technology Center. There, he was able to take advantage of state-of-the-art prototyping equipment and collaborate with experienced staff and industry leaders through feedback sessions organized by the Pier 9 and Autodesk Foundation management to hone and shape his pipe-bending prototype.

The machine, which will have CNC 3D-bending capability, takes in user parameters, including various design measurements, and then outputs a real-time graphical render of the pipe as it will be bent. Most pipe-bending machines today are largely hydraulic and difficult to maintain, but Maluki’s machine will be completely electric, which is important to fit into the Jua Kali business model.

“The hydraulic machines are also driven by electricity, but my goal is to build a completely electric pipe-bending machine,” Maluki says. “Introducing hydraulics means additional maintenance, and that increases the complexity. I wanted to simply design and make a machine that is purely electric and mechanical.”

Plus, to be an economically accessible option for the Jua Kali, who often work barely above profit margins, Maluki says his machine will charge by the bend, not by the batch of items. “The ballpark figure is 50 shillings, which is about 5 cents US per bend,” he says.

Maluki plans to harvest the data from the machine’s computer to create the second generation of pipe-bending machines to help the Jua Kali and other makers produce faster and cheaper. The data will also allow for customization so the artisans can produce products even cheaper and more efficiently.

Now back in Kenya, Maluki is one step closer to delivering his dream to the people he’s aiming to serve.

“They’re very creative and very resourceful people,” Maluki says of the Jua Kali. “Since a majority of them are youth—and I categorize myself as a youth, too—if these people are empowered, they are the best bet to actually drive this country ahead because they are the masses, so to speak.”

Success for Maluki won’t come when he gets his first pipe-bending machine up and running. It won’t come even when he’s placed 100 machines in shops.

Instead, he says, it will come when someone a lot like him—a creative thinker with a great idea—tries something unique and discovers an all-new way to use this machine Maluki has spent so many hours thinking about, creating, and building.

“The longer impact that I hope this will have: People will start trusting the wares that are made by the Jua Kali sector a lot more,” he says. “Then, in the future, they will command a bigger market share in the economy and create the all-too important jobs.

“But real success for me will be for them to surpass or rather to invent new products that I did not even envision as a creator of this machine,” Maluki continues. “When they suddenly have access to a tool that can do wonderful things they’re not able to do with the tools they already have, because somebody sees the opportunity and creates new products to leverage the capacity of the machine—that will be success for me.”

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

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 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 https://thisishardware.org/competition/2018/usa.

Gearbox staff showcasing at the Ishow

Gearbox staff showcasing at the Ishow

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

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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 techcrunch.com, 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.

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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, Startups.be (www.startups.be) and Close the Gap (http://close-the-gap.org/). The Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Development and Digital Agenda of Belgium Alexander De Croo also joined the delegation.

DR. KAMAU GACHIGI AND MIN. ALEXANDER DE CROO

DR. KAMAU GACHIGI AND MIN. ALEXANDER DE CROO

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.

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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.