Article by Rufus Muturi of BRCK.
Part of the ethos at BRCK is a firm belief in the value and impact technology can have, especially in the Africa, where often access to the very technology that is most essential is difficult. That is one of the reasons we built the BRCK, a portable, rugged and self-powered WiFi device. One of the features that continually sets it apart is its ability to connect to an external antenna, thus allowing communities at the edge of mobile networks to get an internet-usable signal. This is a cool feature, together with the BRCK’s ability to expand its memory capacity and the on-board micro web server. It is not until we started experimenting with and hacking our own product that we realized we could access content off it. This realization, coupled with the fact that one of the biggest impediments to learning and teaching is the lack of access to up-to-date materials gave us the jolt to use the BRCK as an educational-content delivery vehicle.
At first, we could not connect as many wireless devices to the BRCK to access the content seamlessly. We got frequent dropped connections and the bandwidth limitations prevented connection to more than five devices at a go. We have made massive improvements to the BRCK and now it can support a up to of twenty devices. That is just a stand-alone BRCK. To give it a kick so that more devices could latch onto it, we attached a RaspberryPi compute module to take care of the processing while the BRCK handled the wireless connectivity. Content could be pushed more efficiently now and more devices could access it. The kind of devices we were testing with were our smartphones and tablets around the office. For application in education, this was not going to suffice. We already had content, from one of our partners eLimu, whom we selfishly and shamelessly poached Nivi Mukherjee, and made her head of our BRCK Education unit.
As far as accessing learning and teaching materials is concerned, a tablet would be the best option, but the kind of tablets available at the time were expensive and could not survive the kind of rough handling that is common in school environments. Kids will be kids and there are bound to be drops and spills onto devices. Enter the Kio: built to withstand up-to a seventy centimetre drop and is spill resistant. It comes with an Intel processor, eight gigabytes of storage for the learning apps and one gigabyte of RAM. To prevent any distractions and to avoid the classroom degenerating into chaos, each tablet comes with a pair of headphones that are colour-coded to make it easier for children to put them on. One of the challenges of using a tablet is the inconvenience of charging and the constant breakages of the cables this entails. The Kio is designed to charge wirelessly in the Kio Kit, a kit that embodies the philosophy of building something that lasts. It is also a rugged case, secure and can hold forty tablets. It comes with a BRCK+Pi to deliver content and can be padlocked for added security. To further boost security, a Kio tablet cannot work away from the Kio Kit and its operating system cannot be flashed.
Another challenge that has often plagued educational initiatives is the lack of content, both learning and teaching. We have partnered with various content providers to minimize this and ensure that the materials on the kit are up-to-date and relevant. Currently, the Kio Kit goes for USD 5,000, which includes the forty tablets and is available for pre-order, a BRCK+Pi and the headphones. A single Kio Tablet goes for USD 100 and they will be available by January 2016. A key aspect of this project was building a product that makes a huge positive impact on the developing world. It is time we built our own solutions for to problems. BRCK, in conjunction with the various stakeholders and partners is committed to doing this.