When motorcycle taxis known as boda boda were introduced in Kenya, it was to address the country’s permanently gridlocked traffic. In Nairobi, a city where travelling anywhere involves being stuck in a traffic jam, boda bodas save time.
But 16 years later, the motorcycles have earned a reputation as death traps. However, what’s become mobile coffins to some is innovation for brothers Charles and Joseph Muchene.
Using innovation to solve problems
The brothers are the brains behind the Smart Jacket, an ordinary reflector jacket that increases the visibility of boda boda riders. Fitted with GPS, the jacket adopts wireless technology to transmit signals to the motorcycle, allowing the driver’s movements to be tracked and communicated to other road users.
“We wanted to do something to stop the rise of motorcycle deaths. Apart from reckless driving by boda boda operators, accidents happen because other drivers don’t see the motorcycles on the road. Charles is a computer programmer and reality augmenter. We created the prototype together and only got it right after a few tries,” says Joseph.
The jackets increase visibility during the day and at night. Great ideas need funding and in the brothers’ case, Nailab, a startup accelerator that offers a three- to six-month entrepreneurship programme, became the launching pad for the smart jacket.
“Nailab put us on the map by helping us to find investors. They also provided mentorship on running the business and expanded our vision of the opportunities we can explore with the business, such as expansion and coming up with more innovations.”
Going beyond borders
Before being taken by Nailab, their company Clad Light was self-funded, with Charles and Joseph relying on loans from friends and family. “We are now in a position to push forward and looking at partnering with motorcycle assemblies, NGOs and government agencies to help with distributing the jackets,” Joseph adds.
The Smart Jacket was launched in 2013. It’s also sold in Dar es Salaam and Kampala, where boda bodas are even more popular than they are in Kenya. Clad Light also produces Night Hoods. The caps are fitted with LED lights and can also be used as a safety gadget by boda boda operators.
Written by Anne Nyanchoka
First published on Digifyafrica.com
Holding image by Thomas Stellmach via Flickr