There are more than 180,000 motorcycles in Kenya and this number is rising rapidly. Many of these motorcycles are used as taxi’s locally referred to as ‘boda-bodas’. More than three-quarter of those killed on the roads in Kenya are males. About half are children or young adults. Fifty-seven per cent are vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Speed has been identified as a major killer on Kenyan roads due to the lack of use of safety equipment such as helmets, seat-belts and child restraints.

Charles Muchene, a Bachelor of Electrical and Electronics graduate from Technical University of Kenya to established CladLight, a Technology Company in 2013 with a mission to reduce motorcycle accidents on our Kenyan roads. This is done by increasing the visibility of the rider using bright lights that are fitted at the back of safety vest – the.  This is what he had to say in regard to his ambitious technology:

“The Smart Safety Vest was launched in November 2013 and has undergone several iterations in its look, feel and functionality. We’ve conducted 9 pilot tests with various motorcycle riders in the country and beyond. The product targets motorcycle operators to aid in increasing their visibility while riding.”
What materials have been assembled to come up with this type of technology?

“We use a collection of different materials for different features of the Smart Safety Vest. For covering the electronic circuitry, we use a transparent flexible resin to ensure that the system can be patched on to a motorcycle safety vest. This also ensures that the circuitry is water proof thus you can use the vest even during the rain,” he reiterated.

What is its unique feature?

“Its unique feature is that the vest is self-independent in that it doesn’t rely on ambient light for reflection to be seen on the road. The bright lights at the back of the vest have their own source of power making it usable in any time of day. The wireless communication employs the Bluetooth protocol for transmission of the signals from the sensor installed on the bike to the smart vest. This ensures a one-to-one pairing and encryption of the data sent. Bluetooth also allows connection to devices such as smart phones that support Bluetooth connectivity. This makes the circuit open to a wide range of applications,” Muchene explains.

Also, “I tried to inquire what problem the project addresses, Muchene quoted, “Out of the 546 motorcycle accident victims for the period January 1, 2015 – July 8, 2015, 217 have lost their lives. Data from the last decade indicate that injuries to motorcyclists increased at an annual rate of 29%. The shocking revelation is that this is only from the captured data from the Kenya Police Traffic Department and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) in Kenya. The bulk of motorcycle accidents go un-recorded. Among the few causes attributed to these accidents, poor visibility of the rider stands out.”

He added, “CladLight ensures that the motorcyclists are visible on the roads by providing them with a special safety vest that have bright lights at the back. This ensures that other motorists can see them hence reducing visibility related to motorcycle accidents.”

What motivated you and your company to come up with this project?

“We noted intensive media coverage on motorcycle accidents in the country. Public district hospitals around the country now have dedicated beds to cater for motorcycle accident victims. The majority of the claims by motorists were that they didn’t see or notice the rider turn or brake. This brought the essence of increasing the rider’s visibility and clearly indicating when they intend to brake or turn,” he notes.

Take me through a particular example(s) of how this project works and how it will bring in a positive impact in the transport sector
Muchene says, “We install a sensor that integrates in to the existing motorcycle’s indication system. When the rider pushes the indicator signal button on the handle bar or presses the brake on the bike, the sensor sends these signals via Bluetooth to the vest which replicates them on the bright LEDs at the back. The lights provide an elevated indication system visible to all motorists on the road.  Signalling is such an important requirement for all road users as it ensures order in the operation of vehicles on the roads. The Smart Safety vest ensures that the rider’s intentions are conspicuous to other motorists.”

What is the impact of the work to date? Give a description of the project’s impact in future?

“We have only conducted a pilot test with 9 smart safety vests. One of the motorcycle taxi riders attested an increased number of customers to his business in Kikuyu as they felt safe being visible on the road when being cycled to their destination. We intend to roll out the product before the end of the year and we plan to carry out a survey to establish the impact of the smart safety vest in reducing visibility related motorcycle accidents,” he quoted.

In order to gain support for your project, are there any partnerships that you have or plan to have as time goes by?

“We have partnered with a Dutch firm, KITT Engineering BV in design of the electronic circuit. They have over 20 years’ experience in designing circuits for special needs in the society ranging from providing automatic petroleum pipes inspection system to children’s playground gaming systems. We look forward to closing a range of partnerships from working with NTSA perhaps to make the Smart Safety Vest a policy on Kenyan roads to motorcycle assembly firms in the country for them to bundle the vests as a package for buyers who purchase motorcycles from them,” he stated.

Financial Sustainability plan-How is your project being supported or funded (finances) to ensure it prospers not only in Nairobi but also spread to other counties?

“The vest will be sustained by sales. Additional revenue will come from other value added services such as GPS tracking devices pluggable to our smart vest platform for tracking location of the motorcycles,” he asserts.

The Smart Safety vest is retailing between KES 5,000-KES7, 000. For the ‘ordinary Kenyan’ there will be options for hire purchasing this at convenient terms based on their level of income. Other plans are to bring the government and corporate foundations on board to subsidize the cost for those who can’t afford.In conclusion, CladLight filed a patent with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute in 2014 for their invention.

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