Business Management

First Kenyan Wearables Company to Cut Motorbike Deaths

Kenya is characterized by poor infrastructure (though improving), high numbers of unemployed youths and a total disregard of traffic rules. With thousands of deaths in the region as a result of motorcycles per year, technological applications have now come into play to change the situation.

In the midst of financial hiccups and with the help of thriving business incubation service, nailab, CladLight has developed an ingenious, unique and innovative product that allows the motorcyclists to remain visible.

The Smart Jacket, will also show when the rider is turning left, right, and braking, by wirelessly syncing the rider with the motorbike. How many lives can this save lives on the notorious Kenyan roads? We catch up with Charles Muchene co-founder of CladLight to learn more.

Can you tell us about your company?
CladLight was incorporated April 2014. It is the first wearable company in the African region currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. The company has two employees and a board of advisors. The target customers are motorcycle riders with a concern on their safety.

When did you start, has the idea been with you for long and nurtured through time?
The idea of the Smart Jacket was conceptualized and implemented back in November 2013. It was a prompt idea [as we] felt it’s about time it’s done.

What is the technology behind your operations? Tell us about the Smart Jacket in detail.
The Smart Jacket is a safety vest fitted with bright lights that increase the motorcyclist’s visibility. The lights are controlled wirelessly from the motorcycle’s indication system. The placement of the lights at the back of the vest form an elevated indication system that is synchronized with the motorbike and clearly shows the intent to turn left, right or to brake. This ensures the motorcyclist is riding conspicuously every time [and thus helps] reduce the accidents that result from poor visibility.


Why would you consider your business idea and company unique?
The company is the first to produce wearable technology in the African market. There exists no other product like the Smart Jacket. The jacket is termed as active since it generates its own light unlike the ordinary reflective vest that relies on ambient light for visibility. We also have a patent pending with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute on the innovation.

Can this innovation be applied to other vehicles as well? If yes, are you considering it?
The idea is applicable to bicycle riders. With increased sales, we will be able to develop a product for the riders with non-motorized bikes.

Who are your competitors and what makes you better/worse than them? What technology are they using that you do not have access to, if any?
Our main competitors are the suppliers of the ordinary reflective vest. The only disadvantage to this is the low cost of these vests. We intend to contend this by importing components used to manufacture the Smart Jacket. With the importation, the cost of the vest is set to go down to competitive prices.

Can you please comment on the motor cycle and transport industry in Kenya and East Africa in general?
The motorcycle industry has grown enormously over the past six years. The government of Kenya zero rated [for tax purposes] all motorcycles rated 250cc and below in 2008 which saw a fast rise in the number of imported/registered motorcycle. People saw the motorcycles as cheaper and convenient way to ferry people to inaccessible areas in the country. This trend has increased and the bikes are now used as local taxis to conveniently maneuver through traffic jams.

Would you say that Kenyan and East African use of technology in road transport is underutilized? Why?
I think the use of technology is underutilized and [there is] a reluctance in the transport sector. Such is evident in the push of the deadline to use cashless electronic payment systems [on public transport] from July to December 2014. The reasons are not convincing but still the courts overruled its implementation.

On the flip side, the use of technology is slowly appearing in the public transport sector. Several fleets of vehicles are now fitted with electronic, GPS controlled, speed governors. The same systems are used for tracking the whereabouts of the vehicle. Also with the introduction of the Smart Jacket to the overwhelming numbers of ‘bodaboda’ [‘border-to-border’ and the local name for motorcycle taxis] operators, we expect to see the adoption of technology in the transport sector.

How has your company impacted the ease at which motor bike users and others are benefiting? In Kenya (and elsewhere)?
We do not have yet a quantifiable measure of the impact of the Smart Jacket in the transport sector. We have conducted a pilot test in five different areas (including Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi) of heavy use of the bodaboda bikes. The feedback is promising and insightful at the same time. This has helped us implement some input from the riders for our next iteration of the Smart Jacket.

Are there any challenges in your operations, any obstacles that you feel are dragging you down in terms of business? How have you addressed them?
Our main challenge in developing and manufacturing the Smart Jacket has been the expensive cost of the electronic systems required. This is accompanied by the unimaginable cost of industrialization and automation of the production in Kenya on top of the high import duty on electronics.

Would you say that Kenyans and East Africans are good at embracing technology? Is this reflected in your operations?
Kenyans love new technology. In the software industry, we have many multinational companies setting up offices in the country and the EA region. This is a result of the increased uptake of new technology by the youths in the region. The same translates to the hardware scene. Smartphones are flooding the Kenyan market as the demand is ever increasing.

From our pilot test, we had a commendable testimonial from one of our Smart Jacket testers. He testified of increased customers to his motorcycle [taxi] in the evenings as a result of having the Smart Jacket. “The customers are concerned about their safety and this Smart Jacket has attracted additional customers to my bike,” he said.

If you were to change anything else in the transport sector, what would you have targeted?
The payment system which already has several interested parties. This is a result of the hustle to carry and pay with cash not to mention the arguments around obtaining the fare balance from the bus conductor.

What is your greatest achievement so far?
Our greatest achievements so far are the production of a working prototype and the successful pilot test with actual bodaboda operators.

Your plan is to reduce the 3000-13000 Kenyan deaths per year (according to WHO) by 30%. How far do you think you have gone? Are there statistical evidences?
We do not have statistics [yet] as we are in the early stages of development. We also have challenges with manufacturing. As such we are seeking partnerships with motorcycle assembly plants, insurance companies, and other stakeholders in the transport sector. These will assist in the endorsement of the product and create channels to mass produce the jackets. This will have an effect on a wider adoption and thus on saving of lives.

What are your shorter and long-term goals? Are you planning to go beyond Nairobi and Kenya for example?
We plan to satisfy the Kenyan market within 18 months of operations. Our plan is to launch the product to emerging markets that heavily rely on motorcycle transport. By year two, we will have scaled to neighboring countries in the East African region – the first one being Uganda, which has even more motorcycles in use more than Kenya.


Daniel Muraga is an Online Writer and Communications Professional


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Daniel Muraga

Daniel Muraga is an experienced online writer and communications professional based in Kenya.

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