The What And The How Of BRCK’S Kio Set-up

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BRCK’s President , Education Division and CEO E-Limu , Nivi Mukhrejee with the Kio tablet
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BRCK’s President , Education Division and CEO E-Limu , Nivi Mukhrejee with the Kio tablet

A number of companies have come up with way to innovate our education sector and this is mostly done by digitizing our education curriculum and classrooms. The government has the laptop project set to roll out the laptop project for Standard One pupils soon, but others in the private sector have taken up this responsibility too. E-limu is one organization that provides digital content for pupils in primary schools. The content, delivered through tablets is generally used as a revision tool. According to Nivi Mukhrejee, CEO and co-founder at E-limu, the schools that have used it, have seen a significant improvement in the pupil’s test scores for KCPE, which gave them the affirmation that they are on the right direction.

However even with the obvious advantage of having such a program, a few short comings were observed. One was internet connectivity. As we all know, internet connectivity, especially in primary schools can be unreliable or virtually non-existent. E-limu sought to solve this problem by pre-loading content in the tablets they gave to the pupils. Good solution yes, but what happens when you need to change some content, or add more? Upgrades would be so much easier and efficient  if they were connected to the internet.

Second challenge came about on the durability of the tablets. I’m sure you have come across a child using a tablet or smartphone. I literally cringe at the thought of giving them my own devices. You know they would probably drop it like ten times, touch the screen with sticky fingers or sharp objects or pour their break time juice on it and wipe it off with their sweater, or not. Disaster! This was a problem that the guys at E-limu knew all too well. How do you get something durable that a kid will probably have to work extra hard to damage, and one that even in the most remote of places, can get constant updates and stay properly connected? You partner with BRCK.

BRCK is the representation of what hardware for Africa is meant to be. It is known for its ruggedness. It is a physically robust WiFi router that can connect to multiple networks and has backup power and storage that ensures that even in remote areas you still get connected to the internet. The people at BRCK did not want to just end the BRCK revolution here, hence the creation of Kio. According to Nivi the Kio tablet is an African solution, designed in Africa for our little kids’ hands.

What is Kio?

BRCK Education’s Kio is a rugged tablet specifically made for Standard one kids in rural primary schools in Kenya. The tablet will be running web based content and locally cached videos. With this as the expected usage, BRCK Education estimates that it will be able to run 8 hours on battery, which is equivalent to a normal school day. Additionally, it is water resistant, so safe from spills, dust resistant and has a scratch-proof screen. It can also withstand a drop on concrete of about 70 cm, which is comfortably around the height of your average school desk.

kio 2

Some of its key hardware features include:

  • 7 inch,  1024 x 600 pixels display
  • Intel Atom X3000 processor clocked at 2 GHz
  • 8 GB storage space with 4 GB reserved for OS, 1GB RAM
  • 802. 11 b/g/n WiFi
  • 4000 mAH battery, supporting 8 hours of minimum web browsing and light video
  • 600 mA inductive type charging and microUSB charging
  • Android 4.4 Kitkat, (can be upgraded to 5.1.1 Lollipop later)
  • Dimensions – 6.3 x 3.8 x 0.5 inches
  • Weight: 330 grams
  • No Camera on board
  • GPS, Accelerometer
  • Rubberized external plastic components, scratch resistant coating on screen. Drop resistant upto 70 cm. IP42 certification on water and dust resistance.
  • All components factory replaceable and repairable. Manufactured in China, assembled in Nairobi
  • Security Features: Customized plastic design to ensure identification. Locked down Operating System to prevent unauthorized use. GPS based Geo- Fencing Security. Locked to Web Content served via BRCK

The Kio tablet makes use of Intel Atom x3000 series of processors. These enables devices created for the classroom to deliver the required performance without sacrificing on battery life. Intel’s role on the development of the Kio was in the product definition phase, basing their input on the Intel recommended system specification for devices to be used in education. This included the need for the Kio to be able to withstand accidental drops from up to 50 cm, water and dust resistance, as well as geo-fencing security, which will render the tablet useless once it moves out of a specified boundary.

This device feels and looks very sturdy. It has a beautiful and simple design and it is the perfect size for the kids little hands. It comes with preloaded education software that is centered on 3 modules/tabs that is,  Learn, Play and Grow. At first glance, the UI looks beautiful, colorful and easy to use and navigate. With content coming from various providers Kenyatta University, Pearson, Intel-Education, e-Limu, Know Zone and e-Kitabu, kids get the chance to do quizzes, watch educational videos and get general information on various topics.

But this is not the only or key innovation launched by BRCK. In the words of BRCK CEO Erik Hersman, they had to do more. Having a tablet is okay, but that doesn’t completely provide for a digital classroom. With many underlying structures still missing in schools, a better and holistic approach needs to be taken. Hence the Kio Kit.

The Kio Kit

kit 1

The Kio Kit is an all-in-one solution for the digital education platform. It is a simple and elegant solution made up of 40 Kio tablets, a BRCK+ Pi (I will explain what that is in a few), earphones and wireless charging capability for the tablets. All these are bundled up in a hardened, water-resistant and lockable case that instantly provides for a digital classroom.

The Kio Kit has a single plug for power and one button used to power on the entire system. Another key thing to note is that the Kio Kit can also use solar energy in areas that do not have electricity. In less than a minute after powering on the kit, the students can access and use the content on their Kios. Even when the power goes out, the Kio is capable of running for 8 hours, which is enough to cover a whole school day. Content is stored locally, eliminating the over dependence on the internet, which is then provided on the tablets. However, any updates or changes to the content are downloaded using the BRCK at night, and later available to the tablets the following day.

The Kio Kit
The Kio Kit

Let us go into detail on what you get in the Kio Kit

40 Kios, Wireless Charging, Color- Coded Earphones

The Kio Kit comes with 40 Kio tablets, individually stored in compartments. Now the cool thing here is what happens to the tablets once put in this ‘compartments’. The Kio Kit supports wireless charging for the tablets. One point of failure for tablets used in schools, according to BRCK, is the tablet charging connection. Wireless charging, a feature reserved for high-end smart phones, finds its first practical use for education tablets. The students simply drop the Kios into the Kit to start charging. A single charge can last up to 8 hours as I mentioned earlier.

User experience is something BRCK Education is very keen on. After testing the Kio Kit in a classroom, they realized that the teacher was spending quite a bit of time explaining to the kids on how to put on the earphones. Therefore, BRCK Education decided to go further and color code the earphones for easier adoption. Not only does this save time, it adds to the color appeal of the whole Kio device. I mean, kids love bright colors so why not?

The Kio Kit also offers security for the Kios. At the end of the day, the Kios are put back in the Kio Kit which is then locked up and placed in a secure location. Other than the physical security provided for by the Kio Kit, the Kios also have geo- fencing security feature, meaning that they can only work in a certain specified geographical area. Furthermore, the firmware cannot be flashed or overridden, adding to its security.

BRCK + Pi

We can refer to this as the brains in the Kio Kit. The BRCK +Pi expands the possibilities of what of the BRCK can do. While BRCK offers the connectivity to go online, BRCK + Pi allows offline content to be rich and fully featured. This allows for a mini-server. It keeps the 8 hour battery life of the BRCK, with solar allowing for off the grid operation.  With BRCK design in mind, it allows for all the Raspberry Pi operating system and application functions  to utilize the robust connectivity of the BRCK without specialized software development.

As I wrote earlier, the Kio Kit stores the content locally. It does this on the BRCK + Pi. This acts as a mini- server as all the content on the tablet, comes from this. Now when it comes to receiving updates or adding new content, the BRCK + Pi uses the robust connectivity provided for by the BRCK to connect to the main servers, hosted by Angani, a local cloud-service startup. The servers here are also mirrored at Amazon Web Services, for redundancy. Once new content is received, it is now rolled out to the individual Kio tablets.

Conclusion

Well, what can I say. These are a revolutionary set of products that are really geared towards leveling the education playing field in Africa something that has been an issue. More and more technologies are available for those children studying in urban areas, while infrastructure cripples the advancement of the same in rural areas. What BRCK Education has done here is show the limitless possibility of technology, especially when faced with infrastructural problems.

What we have here bundled up in the Kio Kit is a solution that goes further than providing some simple tablets to kids. It represents durability, longevity and sustainability, all in one box. No matter the location of a school, they have equal opportunity to access content and use it.

The Kio tablet is set to retail for $99 dollars and is available for schools in October. The general public will be able to buy the tablet in January next year. The Kio Kit on the other hand goes for $5000. BRCK announced Chase bank as a financial partner for this project where schools will split out the $5000 cost of acquisition of Kio Kit to monthly installments starting at Kshs 45,850 a month.

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