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Morris Mbetsa: Actualisng the dream of Africa’s first flying taxi

November 26th, 2020
topic:Innovation
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Kenya
tags:flying taxi, Morris Mbetsa

Morris Mbetsa is an innovation enthusiast who since childhood believed in the unrivaled power of tech to address some of the most pressing homegrown problems. This drive would inspire him to start manufacturing Africa’s first flying taxi to tackle biting problems like traffic jams, poor road infrastructure and enhancing improved delivery of critical products and services like medicare.

And while it has been a tough journey for him and his team, Morris spoke to FairPlanet about his drive and passion, the potential of African techpreneurs to transform the continent and the ultimate dream of completing Africa’s first flying taxi.

FairPlanet: Your drone, the first flying taxi in Africa, has been billed revolutionary for its potential to tackle Africa’s major problems from endemic traffic jams, poor and underdeveloped roads and improving access to service delivery. Tell us where it started, the journey you have walked so far and the current status of the project.

Morris Mbetsa: The dream started from early 2000 when I was just 10 years old. We used to have goats that we reared for milk. The sale of goat milk enabled my grandmother to pay my primary school fees. Everything came crashing down when the goats were stolen. We tried so hard to find the goats but we couldn`t find them. I remember it was at this time that I discovered a neighbour of mine that had tracking devices for his cows and goats. He could locate his farm animals wherever they were and that fascinated me a lot. It was at this age that I discovered the true power of technology. I have been in love with tech solutions and actively engaged in tech creation ever since.

So far I have created a company called Numeral IOT, it’s a tech company that manufactures electronics and also develops firmware and software. We also have an RND lab located in the leafy suburbs of Lavington. The drone project is part of the many projects that we are working on in our RND lab.

What challenges/issues did you envision addressing with the flying taxi and how have you solved them so far?

The biggest issue was Financial Capital. The flying taxi project was and still is a costly project. To make the drone fully safe and tech driven a lot of money is needed for RND and production. At the time I fully funded myself for the entire project and I couldn’t get investors to support my dream, this eventually led to the collapse of the dream.

I started my own company and we focused on producing consumer electronics that normal Kenyans could purchase. Kenyans overwhelming bought our products and our company was able to grow from this.

In your journey between concept to actualisation of this idea, what would you say stood out as the biggest hurdle to the project?

Funds have and will always be a hurdle. There are ingenuities that we wanted to add but we couldn’t because we couldn’t afford.

Your organisation, Numeral IOT has positioned itself as a company keen to disrupt and transform the technology industry in Africa by providing home-made solutions. To what extent would you say you have responded to African needs and what has been the experience?

Numeral IOT is just getting started. Our RND team is working on some very interesting products that Africans will love. We are aiming at having RND labs all over Africa. The African people have been extremely supportive.

As an African innovator what is the role of technology and new age innovations in tackling the continent’s challenges and to what extent has Africa managed to do this?

Africa is a youthful continent. Our young people are — thanks to the internet and social media — embracing tech ideas and solutions. Technology will play a major role in transforming Africa from a third world continent to a first world continent.

As you work on creating home-made solutions to local problems, what is your perception of governments and international community in supporting innovators? What more should be done?

There has been a slight progress; we are starting to see support from governments and international organisations. However there is still more that needs to be done. The government needs to set up structures that discover and nurture innovators.

Africa still experiences a huge digital divide: the difference between those who have access to technologies and skills and those who don’t. How in your opinion can this be bridged?

We need to change the narrative. We need to show that tech is lucrative and has the power to change the world. Africans need to see their fellow Africans becoming successful in the tech world. Governments also have a role to play in setting up lasting structures that will encourage people to join the movement.

What is your response to critics and sceptics who argue that a lot of technologies and innovations claiming to be "African" are only Chinese designs with only superficial unique traits?

I would say China inspires us. The story of china has some resemblance to the story of Africa. We borrow production skills from the Chinese manufacturers. My team and I have been to china to study how they manufacture. We also import some components from china.

What is the next big innovation that Africa and world should expect from Numeral IOT?

We are shooting a YouTube show, “ Tech Family” that will highlight the projects that we are working on and also introduce my RND team to the public. Stay tuned for that, you will learn everything about our organisation from there.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Kenya
The dream started from early 2000 when I was just 10 years old.
So far I have created a company called Numeral IOT, it’s a tech company that manufactures electronics and also develops firmware and software
The biggest issue was Financial Capital. The flying taxi project was and still is a costly project.