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Innovators take wearable tech to ‘boda bodas’

By Frankline Sunday | February 4th 2014

By Frankline Sunday

Kenya: Kenya’s boda bodas have become an identifying feature of the country’s chaotic transport system.

For many, the motorcycle taxis, which originated in Kenya’s rural areas before their use was adopted in urban centres, are an invaluable necessity.

However, due to a lack of adequate regulation, the boda boda sector has become one of the leading causes of road carnage, claiming the lives of thousands and maiming even more.

The central and county governments are trying to get a grip on the industry and restore some order, instituting measures like limiting passenger loads, making protective gear mandatory, tightening licensing regulations and even banning night travel as was done in Kisumu.

For two innovative brothers, however, the answer to safer boda bodas lies in wireless technology.

“We wanted to form a company that would work on making wearable technology a reality,” says co-founder of CladLight Joseph Muchene, 27.

Together with his 25-year-old brother Charles Muchene, they pitched their idea to Mr Sam Gichuru, the CEO of business accelerator hub Nailab, who advised them to develop a unique product in an area where wearable technology would serve an existing need.

The two are in the advanced stages of developing their Smart Jacket for motorcycle riders.

Modified reflectors

The jackets have a modified reflector that is equipped with light-emitting diode (LED) indicators operated by the motorcyclist to show the direction he or she is about to turn.

The indicators have an independent source of power, are controlled wirelessly and are integrated into the motorcycle’s indication system.

A transmitter is fixed in the motorcycle and a receiver inside the jacket so that when a cyclist indicates, the corresponding LED bars on the back of the jacket light up.

“We decided to develop a solution towards providing better road safety particularly for boda bodas because of the high number of accidents that are related to this mode of transport,” said Joseph.

The cost of each Smart Jacket will be Sh3,500.

The duo have already begun receiving offers from companies looking to sign distribution partnerships.

“We hope that the cost of the jackets will go down by up to 30 per cent once we are able to source for more affordable components, like transmitters, from external markets,” said Joseph.

“We are confident that the Smart Jacket will help save lives by increasing the visibility of motorcyclists, especially at night, while at the same time eliminating the need for the cyclist to make hand signals when turning, resulting in more stability.”

The two started work on the Smart Jacket three months ago, and their start-up is currently incubated at the Nailab, where they get support in terms of funding, legal advice, office space and training.

Ready for launch

“The incubation period is set to end this month, and we are currently undertaking the first pilot this week, where we shall be testing out some prototypes,” said Joseph.

The product will be ready for launch to the general public by the first week of March, and the two brothers are looking to partner with transport industry stakeholders to increase adoption of the innovation.

“We are reaching out to local motorcycle assemblies, transport regulators, NGOs, driving schools and Government agencies to help in mass production and distribution of the jackets.”

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