Hope you’re doing well.
The last few weeks have been very busy! I’ve been running a Kickstarter campaign for one of my products, helping the winning team complete the Welcome To Nigeria Challenge, and moving apartments. Here’s to a more relaxing February.
In case you missed it, here’s last month’s newsletter.
The Internet of Production Alliance (IOP) is a global alliance of people and organizations committed to realizing decentralized manufacturing. First conceived as MakerNet in 2016, their current work involves developing required standards that would allow people and fabrication labs share open source designs produced in their labs.
One of their initiatives is the make project, which was announced recently and focuses on connecting makerspace in Africa and Europe. I was interested in learning more about this and reached out to Jessica Nguema who recently joined IOP as the Project Lead.
Chuma: When someone lands on the project’s website, they read the project description “makerspaces as digital innovation hubs for local smart production in Africa,” what does that mean?
Jessica: It’s an approach to connect makerspaces and digital innovation hubs between Europe and Africa, to enable the potential for digital innovation, skill building, job creation, and to create the network of networks for potential collaboration between [both continents].
Chuma: When you think about this project in the future, when it’s all set up, what kind of collaboration between continents do you envision and are some of these already happening? What does a potential collaboration look like?
Jessica: So there’s already some [collaboration] that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was the manufacturing of protective equipment for emergency healthcare workers which were produced in different makerspaces in Africa, for delivery to the different units or hospitals around them. So that’s the make project in one sentence. It’s like a proof of concept of what a decentralized manufacturing system could be between Europe and Africa.
The decentralized production seen during the COVID-19 can be amplified, because we can really see the benefits of going into a more decentralized manufacturing system instead of continuing this mass manufacturing system that’s currently all over the world; with the make project, we can prove how this can be useful for the production of any kind of hardware project. There could be exchange of training between Europe and Africa in the different maker spaces. [We also envision] a maker passport and a map of machinery, for example. That could help identify [where different] kinds of goods can be produced and who are the makers in the maker space in the region - we could enable a certain type of production.
There’s also a distributing contracting system which is in development. We are working to have a prototype at the end of the project to see how we can enable this kind of one-to-many contracts, or one to one contract, which means that we can send an order in one place, and start production is different makerspaces simultaneously with the same quality.
Chuma: African countries may not be on par with their European counterparts in terms of technology, but I think Africans think about protecting IP very seriously because compared to living wages it costs more to make any kind of hardware product on the continent. So people protect their IP like a little bit more. Within this distributed manufacturing and open source ecosystem IOP proposes, where does IP protection fit in?
Jessica: There’s actually a part of the project which focuses on a policy innovation and network building. Two of the partners in the IOP consortium (GIG and the African Makerspace Network) are working on this piece to establish and develop case studies and a policy agenda [around the protection of intellectual property].
The whole idea of the make project is for hardware designs to be open source. So we’re working on the open catalog of business models, the map of machinery, and the open contracting system. These tools [which will cover IP protection] and other educational resources will be open source as well.
Side note: Last month, the Internet of Production Alliance published their findings report on their preliminary research towards developing a standard for repairability of electronics. It’s an interesting outlook on how repairability could look around the world, and it features some quotes from myself and Charles Ikem, who also wrote an article in last year’s Hardware Things Zine.
Engineering For Change is receiving applications for their summer fellowship where fellows are paired with impact organizations across the world to work on hardware and research projects.
Deadline: February 12.
The Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers is receiving applications for their India, US, and Kenya stops.
Deadline: April 14 (for African applicants).
In Uganda, KARAA is developing electric bicycles for last-mile delivery of retail and food products. The company is currently in their beta-testing phase and plans to roll out to market shortly.
At January’s Community Chat, Geofrey Mutabazi — KARAA’s founder — described how the company started working with battery technologies by designing portable ChargeKo power banks to gain an understanding of power needs in their target market. They’ve also employed e-Commerce platforms like Jumia in their beta testing to gauge the consumer response.
Until next time,
This month’s Community Chat has Frank Bentum as our guest. He’s the Executive Manager of Africa Open Science Hardware (AfricaOSH), an organization working to promote open source technology in African tertiary institutions. Join us!