Kenyan Company Invents New Type of Computer Modem

New BRCK Computer Model
Ushahidi

AFRICANGLOBE – The easiest, most reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the world, even when you don’t have electricity.

Anyone who has worked in the field — or anyplace far from the world’s most wired urban areas — knows how hard it can be to get connected and stay online. And yet the equipment used to connect in Kenya, Africa, or the rest of the developing world is the same as that used in New York and London, even though the conditions are completely different.

At Ushahidi, we face this problem all the time. We realized that what we really needed was a smart, rugged device that could connect to the internet any way it could, hop from one network to another, create a hotspot for multiple devices, while plugged in or running on battery power.

The basic idea behind the BRCK computer modem is that all kinds of jobs require steady connectivity, even when infrastructure is spotty due to wireless connections that come and go, intermittent power, or devices that can’t share connections. Seeing this, we set out to redesign connectivity for the world we live in – Africa. As we laid out what such a device would look like — physically robust, able to connect to multiple networks, a hub for all local devices, enough backup power to survive a blackout — we realized that the way the entire world is connecting to the web is changing. We no longer only get online via desktops in our office, we have multiple devices, and we are all constantly on the move. So we designed the BRCK computer modem for the changing way we connect to the web around the world, from cafes-hoppers in San Francisco to struggling coders in Nairobi.

The BRCK computer modem is like a backup generator for the internet.

It works when the electricity goes out and it works when the internet goes down. It is portable and easy to set up. It supports up to 20 devices, with WiFi powerful enough to cover multiple rooms. Our motto has always been “if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.”

Our aim is to move the BRCK computer modem from its current prototype phase into a fully produced, field-ready product. We need your help to achieve this goal of taking the prototype to production.

Who are we?

Ushahidi, founded by David Kobia, Juliana Rotich, Ory Okolloh and Erik Hersman, is a non-profit technology company that builds open source software. The word “Ushahidi” means “testimony” in Swahili, and came out of the crowdsourced mapping platform we built during the Kenyan post-election violence in 2008. Our goal is to improve the way information flows in the world, and the BRCK computer modem is a natural extension of this.

As a company full of engineers working in places with poor infrastructure, we simply cannot get connected as reliably as our peers in the developed world. Since our software came out of a crisis situation, the tools we build are aimed at helping people communicate in the toughest of situations, and helping collect information in the most difficult places.  Our software has been used for blizzards in Washington DC, hurricanes in the US, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and election monitoring around the world.  The BRCK computer modem is our answer to a fundamental problem that arises during these situations and during the daily life of much of the world: the need for reliable connections in unpredictable environments.

Innovation comes from solving real problems with constrained resources. Change happens at the frontier.

The Technology Behind The BRCK.

The BRCK works much the way your cell phone does, by intelligently and seamlessly switching between Ethernet, Wifi, and 3G or 4G mobile phone networks. By plugging in a SIM card or connecting to a wired or wireless ethernet connection the BRCK will automatically get online. Power is also redundant; if your AC power fails, BRCK falls back on its 8-hour battery without needing to be told.

Kenyan Company Invents New Type of Computer Modem
BRCK

The BRCK is a software infused device, operating seamlessly with the BRCK Cloud, our website that you can access from anywhere to check how network connections and electricity are performing on your device. You can also manage alerts and applications remotely from your phone or computer, as well as gather data reported from attached sensors or computers.

There’s a darn smart backend to the BRCK as well, a cloud-based system that syncs your BRCK with current data from cellular providers in your country. This backend provides a dashboard of metrics to monitor your connectivity and devices over time, and a way to install new services like VPN, Dropbox or any other app that you might create.

The Team

Juliana Rotich – Executive Director

Juliana Rotich is originally from Kenya where she spent her early life and schooling. She later moved to the US where she majored in IT and has worked in the industry for over ten years.

She collaborated with the online community and co-founded Ushahidi. As a Program Director for Ushahidi she manages projects and aids in the development and testing of the Ushahidi platform.

She also blogs at ‘Afromusing’ blog, typically with a focus on African tech and renewable energy. She is a budding African Futurist and a TED Senior Fellow. She often speaks at international conferences about tech and Africa.

Jon Shuler – R&D Manager

Jonathan is self described polymath with a background in multimedia journalist and a penchant for taking things apart to make new things.  Like all hardware hackers, Jonathan’s experience has come out of necessity and frustrations.   His improvised creations have ranged from a remote trigger systems to sync sound and multiple cameras for multi-cam interviews, to hot-wiring a hard drive to a car battery in order to file a story from the DRC .

Jonathan has been collaborating with Ushahidi since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, creating videos which highlighted the impact of Ushahidi Platform has on real people’s lives.  As R&D Manager for Ushahidi, Jonathan leads a team of engineers and designers develop hardware that we hope will change the way we experience internet connectivity.

Part Two