Handheld Technology

SA Startup: Solar Powered Tablets for Rural Areas

Millbug Technology, a tech startup situated in Port Elizabeth has invented a tablet that can be charged by solar energy. The tablet is called Millbug Vuya—Vuya is a Xhosa word that means “be happy”—and was launched June, 2014.

The Vuya costs R1499.99 or less than $150.00 and was designed with people who live in rural areas in mind. Vuya comes with a solar charger and has a USB port for conventional charging. The 5,000mAh solar power bank is detachable. Users can remove it and place it in direct sunlight to charge it through the natural energy the sun provides.

The co-founder of the company, Sabelo Sibanda, takes us through the journey of a tech startup and shares how the market is responding to the Vuya tablet.

What motivated the idea of a solar powered tablet?

We started our company, Millbug, in 2012 as an eCommerce retailer selling women's clothing online. During our many surveys, we found that our clients were more likely to purchase tactile goods from larger screens than their mobile phones. We investigated many solutions and found that there was a great need for a solar powered tablet PC beyond our immediate needs and decided to solve that problem.

How is the tablet being received locally and in other African markets?

Our target market is extremely excited about our product. There is great interest throughout the continent and we are in advanced talks with various parties about establishing channels to avail the tablet to all who are interested in purchasing it.

In terms of features, how does your tablet compare to other tablet offerings from big players such as Apple, Sony and Samsung?

The target market we are seeking to provide solutions for is very different to that of the companies mentioned. That said, our device is able to comfortably run any application available on the Google Play Store seamlessly on an HD display without the need for a traditional power outlet.

I read in an article that there are some big companies with an appetite for the Vuya tablet, have you signed a big contract yet?

There have been some big companies that are interested in the Vuya and we have been weighing our options as we really would like to make the device as widely available as possible.

It was also reported that you were planning another device with a larger screen and built-in 3G support, who are you targeting with this product and when will it be available on the market?

We have completed work on this device and will be rolling it out in the first quarter of 2015. We found that the need for our products was greater than we initially anticipated and have, as a result, developed a product to meet the needs of professionals.

What do you think are the biggest hurdles that new tech startups have to face in South Africa and how did you overcome them?

I believe that the single biggest problem that new tech startups have to face in South Africa and the African ecosystem as a whole is a lack of infrastructure to roll out their innovative ideas to the entire market as a whole. The availability of the Millbug Vuya tablet would go a long way in growing that consumer market as well as adding to the pool of tech entrepreneurs throughout the continent. 

Do you have plans to tap into international markets with your solar powered tablet?

We have had great interest from South America and are following up on a few opportunities that would allow us to have our products available there and beyond.

Some people are of the idea that African-conceived technology products rarely attract the international market, how do you plan to ensure that the international community pays attention to the Vuya?

Technology products by their very nature solve very specific problems. The problems most of us in Africa often try to solve are unique to our continent and, as a result, aren't applicable elsewhere. Solving a specific problem that is universally shared is the only way to scale globally and we are building a few MVPs that address problems of this nature.

Can we expect solar powered smartphones from you in the near future?

We have a tablet PC that has the ability to make calls but are looking more into the Internet of Things space in the near future.

What excites you the most about Vuya tablet?

I'm most excited about the lives that will be changed as a result of the Vuya Tablet. [Only] between 1% and 3% of information online is African created and I know that the Vuya Tablet PC will go a long way in changing this and, as a result, create a number of tech entrepreneurs along the way.


Emelia Mosima is a Freelance Writer and regularly blogs at The Online Writing Business


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Emelia Mosima

Emelia Mosima is a Freelance Writer and regularly blogs at The Online Writing Business

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