Boda boda, anyone? If you don’t know what that is, stick around.
Boda boda is the local name for Kenya’s favored mode of transportation. It is becoming more popular in both rural and urban areas across the country. Also known as the motorcycle, the boda boda saves Kenyan riders time, gives them maneuverability to zigzag around traffic jams, squeeze through narrow city streets and sometimes get in trouble.
Unfortunately, that means an increased rate of accidents, despite legal requirements that all boda boda riders wear reflective jackets and protective helmets.
According to the World Health Organization, between 3,000-13,000 Kenyans die in traffic accidents each year, most of whom are pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists.
The problem caught the eye of brothers Joseph and Charles Muchene, respectively a certified public accountant and an electrical and electronics engineer. They now run a startup in Nairobi dealing with e-textiles, called CladLight.
Alarmed by rising motorcycle accident rates, the brothers attributed the vulnerability of boda boda riders to low visibility and determined that if they could increase boda boda visibility, then they might be able to reduce accidents by more than 50 percent.
“We had to come up with a product that could save lives as well as being trendy,” Joseph told TECHtonics in an email interview. “CladLight saw an opportunity to try and address the problem with the twist of fashion and make something out of it.”
Joseph says increasing the visibility was tricky because “it is the law in Kenya that all motorcycle riders and any passenger thereon must wear a reflective jacket and a helmet. So we really had to up our game to solve the issue.”
They decided that wearable electronics would be the most suitable avenue to tackle the problem. More specifically, they came up with an idea they called the Boda-Pack.
“Boda-pack is just a modification of the standard reflective jacket in that there are still reflective strips on the jacket and additional direction-indicating LEDs mounted on the jacket,” Joseph said. “We also made an improvement to the jacket by adding brake lights. All these are synchronized with the motorcycle indication and stopping systems.”
CladLight has already begun production of the Boda-Pack. But Joseph says the jacket was cumbersome and is being redesigned.
The new model is expected to hit the Kenyan market in January. In due course, the brothers plan to reach out to the Kenyan government and The National Transport and Safety Authority to gauge their interest in the Boda-Pack.
“After we have established the business in Kenya and creat[ed] a niche for ourselves, then by the end of the year we venture into East Africa, then gradually the whole of Africa,” said Joseph.
By all accounts, the Muchene brothers are pioneers in Africa so far as wearable electronics are concerned. And they hope to make a difference.
“We really hope to have a positive impact on society,” said Joseph.