BRCK’s device keeps people connected no matter where they are on Earth. And in a reversal of globalization, it’s made in America, for the rest of the world.
Flip over most any Apple product, and you’ll find the company’s famous tagline: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” It’s no doubt a point of pride, even while the labor practices of the company’s vendors in China have come under scrutiny in recent years.
Far from Silicon Valley, there is a place that some are calling “Silicon Savannah.” It is here, constellated around Nairobi-based nonprofit collective Ushahidi, that an explosion in African tech is taking shape. This month, for the first time, backers of the collective’s 2013 Kickstarter campaign, are finally getting their hands on BRCK, a long-awaited device that, in many ways, is the antithesis of Apple’s shiny products, yet potentially just as revolutionary. True to form, on the bottom of every BRCK is the declaration “Made in Kenya, Assembled in America.
Ushahidi originally billed BRCK as a “backup generator for the Internet,” though their messaging has evolved into “The go anywhere, do anything, self-powered, mobile Wi-Fidevice.” It is essentially a mobile Internet router. It connects to the web in three ways: by plugging in a standard ethernet cable, by bridging with other Wi-Fi networks, or by accessing 3G or 4G data via a basic SIM card.
Ushahidi invented it in order to overcome infrastructure challenges–specifically,inconsistent electricity and Internet connectivity–plaguing young upstarts in Nairobi. Turns out, plenty of other people and places face the same challenges; the first run of BRCKs are being delivered this month to users in some 45 countries.
Lest you think Internet outages are reserved for the developing world, both the U.S. and U.K. encountered major, multi-hour blackouts recently, in what appear to be unrelated events: Virgin Media customers across London lost service, while millions of Time Warner customers across the U.S.–with high concentrations in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Tampa–were knocked offline.
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