South African solar-powered tablet aims to enable e-learning in rural areas
There have been multiple attempts in the past couple of years by African companies to market African-designed tablets. VMK (Congo), Encipher (Nigeria), Nhava (Zimbabwe), and GIL (Ghana) all come to mind, with Congo’s VMK being the most successful. As of mid-2014, all are built in China and run on Android. (VMK tablets and smartphones will be manufactured in Congo-Brazzaville later in 2014.) Though re-branded Chinese tablets, the tablets are still a low-cost alternative to more expensive devices like the iPad. Plus, the distributors provide additional services no Chinese manufacturer could manage in Africa.
Tablets may be extremely portable and they certainly lend themselves to educational settings, but selling African tablets is not as easy as it sounds. Even an affordable tablet costs US$140-250 – again, much cheaper than an iPad, but still out of reach for the majority of students and schools. Moreover, mobile broadband connections are not ubiquitous. Even when Internet is available, it isn’t always reliable and electricity (needed to charge a tablet) can be spotty. Fortunately, there are many African projects offering Wi-Fi to areas that lack traditional broadband infrastructure. TV white spaces projects, for one, will provide practical and affordable opportunities for greater internet access.
With the challenges facing an African tablet in mind, there is room for improvement. Add to the mix the Millbug Vuya Tablet PC. The latest African-designed tablet is solar powered to facilitate mobile computing in areas with intermittent access to electricity.
Millbug, a firm founded by Sabelo Sibanda and Thulisile Volwana, was founded in 2012 as an e-commerce company that sold fashionable women’s clothing to millennials. The company was nominated for a South African e-commerce award in the same year and learned many valuable insights on e-commerce, internet proliferation and technology use habits across the continent.
It was through this discovery that the pair embarked on the development of a rugged, yet aesthetically pleasing tablet that effortlessly runs on the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system. Vuya means “be happy” in isiXhosa and it is the intention of the Millbug Vuya Tablet to bring happiness those that need it the most. For this reason, this tablet has a 1.2 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 4 GB of storage a photovoltaic (solar) power source as well as the ability to be charged using USB or a tradition power outlet.
Millbug received financial assistance from the SEDA ICT incubator for the certification of the device as well as consultation and mentoring from Ellen Fischat and Sipelo Lupondwana of the same Incubator. Millbug is incubated at the Port Elizabeth chapter of Shanduka Black Umbrellas.
The tablet will retail for no more that R1499.99 to ensure that it is within reach of its users.