Gearbox will be a “makerspace”, a huge room full of equipment that allows members to do rapid prototyping of their new hardware ideas either for phones, electronics, robots and just anything hardware and new in the market.
To be a Gearbox member, one has to pitch in and work with each other, help new people get up to speed on machines and teach each other better techniques for getting stuff done. It will be a space where hardware developers help one another, creating community of hardware enthusiasts.
Speaking exclusively to TechMoran, Hersman said,” I’ve thought about hardware for a long time. I started AfriGadget back in 2006, and have been a founding organizer of Maker Faire Africa since 2009, an African maker’s fair that has taken place in Ghana, Kenya, Egypt and Nigeria.”
“We’ve all wanted to do more with the electronics and robotics sides of tech in the community for a while, but it wasn’t until we started building out the BRCK a year ago that I realized just how badly we needed the resources and equipment here in Nairobi if we wanted to really get things moving on the hardware front,” Hersman added.
To be based in Nairobi, Gearbox will have a “Heavy” and a “Light” section. Light will be in the building with the iHub and will focus on electronics and plastic – such as Arduino kits, Rasberry Pis, 3d printers and laser cutters. Heavy will be based outside of the iHub, as it will have heavy equipment such as welding machines, metal lathes and a plasma cutter.
“It will be a paid membership based space for everyone, where you have to go through training for certification to work on any machine. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have access to the tools and equipment and will only be responsible for your own raw materials and components,” Hersman added.
Gearbox will be open to all but will be paid membership of some $12 a month for it to be self sustainable.
The hardware hub is expected to bring in the much needed hardware solutions Africa needs and also fill the gap in a country with inadequate or no rapid prototyping facilities and where hardware entrepreneurs don’t have clear channels to grow into fabrication and manufacturing at scale. It will be a resource where those interested in working in the worlds between electrical engineering, software development and jua kali craftsmanship meet.
Gearbox is not iHub’s first try at hardware as Hersman and the Nairobi-based Ushahidi team made the BRCK, which will be available in stores soon. Several other iHub members have created point of sale machines, wildlife tracking drones, remotely triggered (via text message) ugali machines, home security systems and TV streaming devices for homes.
Hersman concludes that hardware “is already in our blood.”