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Online Anywhere You Go: A Backup Generator for the Internet Online Anywhere You Go: A Backup Generator for the Internet
Technology

Online Anywhere You Go: A Backup Generator for the Internet

by Nathaniel Manning

May 27, 2013

I'm an American male in the Bay Area working for a Kenyan tech company called Ushahidi. I think that’s pretty cool—and that really couldn’t have happened five years ago. Ushahidi’s mission is to improve the way information flows in the world, and the BRCK is a natural extension of this. We build tools that help people collect and share data, information, and stories. 

Our latest project, the BRCK, is a redesign of the modem for the changing way we connect to the web. It has an eight-hour battery backup, fail over to a SIM card, the ability to connect 20 devices, 16 GB of storage, an API, and it’s a software-infused device with a smart cloud system that can collect data from attached sensors and hardware and give real-time usage metrics and feedback. 

The modems used around the world were designed for the United States and European markets more than a decade ago. They assume ubiquitous electricity connection, years of fiber and DSL infrastructure, and are designed for a single household with a single desktop computer in their office. 

That scenario is outdated. It’s not the use case for the one billion additional people who are expected to get online by 2015. Even in the developed world, the way we connect to the web has drastically changed, Many people have three devices and are constantly on the move. Our smartphones and laptops move with us as we work from coffeeshops and on the road. But our antiquated modems are stuck at home.

We thought it was about time the modem got a makeover.

At Ushahidi, and we have seeded innovative technologies and projects, from the open source Ushahidi software that builds tools for data collection and seeds entrepreneurship, from Crowdmap, which allows anyone to crowdsouce information, to the iHub, an innovation incubator in Nairobi.

These are solutions that came from an African context to fix real problems, and the success of the products around the world has shown that great ideas can come from anywhere. 

We launched a Kickstarter campaign to move the BRCK 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. We have raised more than $105,000 of our $125,000 goal and have just about a week to go.  

In many ways, the BRCK is the vertical integration of the data collection market. The modem is the gateway between our devices and the wider world of the internet, but it is has been left ignored blinking in the corner, looking much the same as it did ten years ago. 

As a software company, Ushahidi is seeing that some of the most innovative products out in the world today are born when the agile, intelligent aspects of software and data are brought to an outdated piece of hardware. Think of the way Square revolutionizing the credit card swiper, for instance.

‘If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere”

This has been one of Ushahidi’s favorite sayings, and it remains true for our new product. The emergence of a hardware product from an African company marks a phase-change point for tech invention. The BRCK shows that great ideas can come from anywhere, that innovation comes from solving real problems with constrained resources.

Change happens at the frontier.

This project is part of GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.

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