Even in the developed world the power goes out, your internet provider goes down and Amazon Web Services occasionally crashes your favorite apps. What is an annoyance here can become a life-threatening situation in Africa and other parts of the developing world in the throes of natural disasters and civil strife. The internet—and increasingly the internet of things—is part of the fabric of our everyday lives and we depend upon it for almost everything.
No one is more aware of this than the founders of Ushahidi, a non-profit technology company that builds open source software and digital tools to help people in the developing world use information more effectively. The project began in 2008 when engineers David Kobia, Juliana Rotich, and Erik Hersman built a crowdsourced mapping platform in response to the post-election violence in Kenya (“Ushahidi” means “testimony” in Swahili.) In such a situation, timely access to information can mean survival, and yet maintaining relaible connectivity there proved to be exceedingly difficult.
The founders realized that one way to meet their goal of improving, “the way information flows in the world,” would be to engineer a device that could provide failsafe internet connectivity in almost any situation. And so, the BRCK was born to make this a convenient, portable and durable reality. Now on the sixth iteration of the prototype, Ushahidi is ready to go into production and just launched a Kickstarter to fund it.
BRCK works much like a cellphone, “by intelligently and seamlessly switching between Ethernet, Wifi, and 3G or 4G mobile phone networks.” It gains connectivity through a standard SIM card and/or ethernet or WiFi connections, and has a smart battery the seamlessly kicks in for 8 hours if the power is interrupted. The BRCK connects to the BRCK Cloud, a “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.” The BRCK also has 16GB of memory on board that can be synced to Dropbox and other connected devices and applications.
Ushahidi says that the BRCK is “like a backup generator for the internet.” It is extremely small, and designed to be the easiest possible networking device to set up. Once operating, it can connect up to 20 devices with a WiFi signal that can cover several rooms. And it’s tough, following the group’s motto, “if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.”