Hope you’re doing well.
It’s a new year, and I’ve got a few plans for Hardware Things that should be interesting. I shared a letter with with members earlier, which you can read to see my thought process a little bit. I’m committed to exploring topics related to hardware product development on the African continent with Hardware Things, and that takes quite the effort.
To support this work, I invite you to become a member of Hardware Things this year! It’s $5 a month or $55 a year, and it largely goes to paying contributors and hosting fees. If you sign up in January, you get last year’s zine shipped to you as a bonus (until stock lasts).
In case you missed it, here’s last month’s newsletter.
Over the last few years, electric motorcycles have become more popular on the continent, particularly in East Africa where startups developing motorcycles with electric powertrains and swap-able batteries have attracted significant funding. The governments in Rwanda and Kenya have been particularly supportive of this, issuing rebates on sales to encourage usage and adoption of these vehicles. In early 2021, Rwanda also relaxed Value Added Tax for the importation of components for electric vehicles.
Uganda seems to be the place where the most interesting work is happening; without a clear market leader — like Ampersand in Rwanda or Opibus in Kenya — the main startups in the country have different ideologies. Zembo produces electric motorcycles for sale with an own-a-bike scheme where owners pay back over a number of months. On the other hand, Bodawerk takes petrol motorcycles from their owners and retrofits them with an electronic powertrain for a fee. While the former focuses on the full motorcycle experience, Bodawerk is more of a battery company, extending their expertise to other power storage functions.
For most motorcycle owners though, who use the boda bodas (as they’re called locally) to run taxi services, switching from petrol-powered bikes to the electronic bikes is about their bottom line. Few riders would give up conventional types such as the Bajaj Boxer and its reliability for electric models if they didn’t earn more in the long run.
Thus, it will be important that these startups are able to develop a bike renewal mechanism for their consumers. Riders of conventional bikes have a wide array of options to finance ownership. Riders can buy from the resale market or get new bikes, for which several financiers are available. Bikers are also concerned about how long the batteries can last. Without widespread charging or battery swapping infrastructure, it becomes difficult.
Zembo’s biggest challenge is that its riders are geographically limited compared to petrol powered bikes that go well into neighbouring regions, taking on rare but well paying rides. Bodawerk faces a different challenge: their retrofit fee is comparative to the price of a second-hand motorcycle even though their batteries have a longer range than Zembo’s. It might take a few years to figure these challenges out, but the executives of both companies are banking on the low maintenance cost of electric motorcycles in the long run to win over motorcycles owners.
It’s going to be an interesting few years in this space, no doubt. If you’re interested in following what’s happening very closely, Geoffrey Ndhogezi and Tom Courtright write about the motorcycle space on the continent exclusively on their Lubyanza blog.
From Addis Ababa: Jessica Pothering writes about how beekeeping on the continent is getting a digital upgrade with innovators developing sensors, electronic devices, and smart hives. Apart from entrepreneurs making these technologies for profit, there are also large projects across universities and institutions sharing their designs.
Coming off their $7.5 million raise (the largest raise for an African electric mobility company), Opibus signed a partnership deal with Uber that will see them deliver 3,000 electric motorcycles this year. Uber and Opibus had completed a pilot programme that went quite well and both companies hope to deploy the bikes to other parts of the continent.
A few months ago, I included a link to the Mobius 3 in the newsletter. It’s a car made in Kenya by Mobius Motors and was received quite well. Thad Kerosky, a newsletter subscriber, responded with new information about the car: it’s actually a Chinese-designed car called the BAIC BJ40, which has been previously licensed to Innoson (the Nigerian company) as the IVM40. While there is a lot to be said about why Mobius and Innoson market these cars as made in their country, when they are mostly assembled, I think what it is more interesting is how BAIC has developed this car platform that is easy for new upstarts to replicate in their countries.
Tiny Hearts Technology is developing cribs that use phototherapy for treating babies with jaundice. [Nigeria]
Soko Fresh produces cold storage solutions for farmers and off-takers. [Kenya]
Designing a motorized weeder for rice fields in a bid to improve production (PDF). [Benin]
The Royal Academy of Engineering is receiving applications for their Engineering X impact grants, which offers between £50,000 and £80,000 for projects that invest in engineering skills in the areas they’re most needed.
Deadline: January 31
In Uganda, Fundi Bots develops robotic kits for kids to learn STEM principles as well as an integrated science curriculum that’s available to schools.
Happy new year!