Story by @Mwirigi for Mulika Mwizi
The BRCK is a wireless router that connects to multiple networks, seamlessly switching between them in case one goes down. It also has a battery that keeps it running if power fails. This makes it the easiest, most reliable way to connect to the Internet, anywhere in the world.
I had a chat with the BRCK projects Director of Hardware, Reg Orton, to get the low down on Ushahidi’s first hardware product.
Based on that chat, these are the five key things you need to know about the BRCK
Ushahidi has built a number of prototypes but the money it needs to put the BRCK into commercial production was obtained from the crowd funding site Kickstarter in less than a month.
The campaign attracted more than 150 backers in its first two days, with funders contributing more than US$22,000 towards their goal of $125,000. As at 5th June 2013, the project has $172,107 pledged by 1078 backers.
You’re probably thinking “What’s the point? Any Android device can be used as a Mobile hotspot”
You’re right, but there are a few advantages to working off of a BRCK vs tethering.
The first is reception, the built in antenna on the BRCK performs better than more phone antennas, and there’s always the option to plug in an even more powerful external antenna.
Secondly, battery life on a BRCK is much better than that of your phone while its tethering. With over 8 hours of battery life, you don’t have to keep it plugged into your laptop (where it will keep sucking away your laptop’s battery).
Finally, BRCK provides a better network experience. The BRCKs WiFi has a greater range than a phone or a MiFi device and it allows you to share the WiFi with up to 20 devices.
In addition, the BRCK can utilize data from a SIM Card in the device, a WiFi Connection and an Ethernet connection while switching between them seamlessly in case one fails. You can even attach a USB modem to the BRCK and have it use that connection as well.
WiFi you ask? Well, imagine you have a paid Wazi WiFi Account. Its only good for one device, right?
Wrong! You can connect to it with the BRCK then have the BRCK create a WiFi network that you can share with up to 20 people using that single account.
The BRCK can provide a connection for up to 20 devices for 8 hours, “8 Ushahidi hours, not Apple ones” says Reg Orton.
The 8 hour figure is not the marketing drivel we’re used to, it’s based on actual usage of the prototypes by the Ushahidi team around the world, from Coffee shops in San Francisco to a tent deep in the heart of the Masaai Mara.
The BRCK charges off a standard MicroUSB port and has built in surge protection to prevent damage from power fluctuations.
BRCK has 16 gigs of onboard storage which provides you with a network drive wherever you are. This is great for situations where several people on a team need to upload files to a single folder. It can therefore be the office network that you can take with you to the field.
The BRCK also has an Arduino programmable 8-bit, 32K Flash, AVR Expansion Controller and a 10 pin I/O expansion port.
In English, this means that it can intelligently connect to temperature sensors, cameras and other devices. You can, for instance, integrate the BRCK to a security system that supports door switches, window switches, motion detectors, etc and send alerts to the BRCK cloud.
In addition to this, the BRCK is a software infused device, operating in the cloud with its own website, accessible from anywhere to allow you to check how WiFi and electricity are performing, or manage alerts and applications. The cloud even allows you to top up the airtime balance on the SIM remotely, so the head office can load data on to a BRCK out in the field.
Data settings for just about every mobile network provider in the world are built in, allowing you to simply plug your SIM Card in and go live.
The BRCK device will retail for $200 (Approx. Shs. 16,000/=). It should ship in November 2013.
All of this is bundled in a rugged, waterproof shell.
Ushahidi likes to say, “If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere” which is easy to say when your product is an online platform.
Redesigning the modem to change the way we connect to the internet is a hardware project, this is most definitely the tool for the job.