In Berlin Kreuzberg, Eric Hersman sits down in a tiny backyard of a former postal railway station to rest from his last night and knocks down a Club Mate. Your associations may go wild reading keywords like “Berlin” and “night”, but you are on the wrong path here. He was working late hours to get the latest invention out of Kenya, the BRCK, on tracks at Kickstarter.
Together with the Ushahidi team around DLDster Juliana Rotich and David Kobia, they have focused on building tools that improve the way information flows in the world. The BRCK is a natural extension of this. Since the Ushahidi software came out of a crisis situation (post-election violence in Kenya), the tools they build are aimed at helping people communicate in the toughest of situations, and helping collect information in the most difficult places.
„Whatever Ushahidi does, it is scratching our own itch! The BRCK is the same: it sucks to work somewhere and the power goes off. We have a generator in the building (editorial note: iHub) and the power is on two minutes later. You are still screwed! You still lose five minutes of productivity. The other use case is travelling; travel and connectivity,” adds Eric (@whiteafrican).
BRCK is a hardware answer to a fundamental problem that arises during these situations and during the daily life of much of the world: the need for reliable connections in unpredictable environments. „The idea behind BRCK is that all kinds of jobs require steady connectivity, even when infrastructure is spotty (...). Seeing this, we set out to redesign connectivity for the world we live in - Africa. As we laid out what such a device would look like - physically robust, able to connect to multiple networks, a hub for all local devices, enough backup power to survive a blackout,“ it states on the Kickstarter campaign (first reported on the DLDpulse).
Here’s a little video introduction of the device, the “backup generator for the Internet”:
“Our motto has always been “if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere,” says Eric and concludes with a more visionary angle on the BRCK: “It basically glues together the Internet of Things and Cloudcomputing.”
For more information on the BRCK, read the Q&A with Reg Orton below. The Kickstarter campaign is running for another seven days. Just now it has excelled its goal of raising $125.000. It sure seems like people want it to work anywhere.
Q&A with Reg Orton (Head of Hardware, BRCK)
Highlights are a Linux core running on an Atheros processor, 16GB of solid state storage, and the arduino-compatible core available for prototyping (you can write your own sketch and upload it through the cloud). We have a robust power supply, able to take input from 3.5V -> 17V, including solar and vehicle batteries. Also, there are external antenna ports available for connecting larger, more powerful antennas. You can find a full spec sheet here.
Purpose of design?
We designed this device because we have historically had a lot of trouble with both power and Internet reliability in Kenya and around Africa. Also we work in some pretty remote and hostile areas, where normal networking devices struggle with reliability. Thus the BRCK was born to solve our problems. Additionally we are interested in remote sensor acquisition, and real world uses of the Internet of Things, and therefore designed in a sensor acquisition platform as a standard feature. We also wanted something that was low cost enough that we could equip all our staff members with a device to take with them on the road.
Potential in crisis situation?
We see this device being used in a few ways, specifically connecting areas that traditionally struggle to be connected, or the infrastructure is sparse. We understand that a lot of crisis response these days requires reliable Internet connectivity to be available. Additionally, we see our device being suitable for installation as a sensor hub, allowing external sensors such as seismometers, Geiger counters, water quality sensors to be Internet available, and thus remotely monitored 24/7 from the field. The large battery, ruggedness and solar capability allow our device to perform suitably in harsh conditions for a long period of time.