A Wearable Flexible Solar Panel Vest

This is a proposed way to maximize the usage and efficiency of the KVA Flexible Solar Portable Kit by Dominic Wanjihia. Dominic was awarded one of the Flex Kits at the recent Maker Africa Faire in Accra after showing off some amazing new ideas.

One of the cheapest form of transport in Kenya is the “Boda Boda” literally meaning “Border-to-border”, a bicycle ride from one countries boarder immigration offices through no-mans land to the immigration offices of the bordering country customs office.

Solar powered vest for bodaboda bicycle taxis

This mode of transport is non discriminatory and is used by people of all walks of life. from school children, market goers, workers, business persons, etc. The popularity is partially due to the speed and convenience as one does not get stuck in traffic. In the Lake basin town of Kisumu there are estimated to be over 500,000 BodaBoda’s. In the whole county, in excess of 1,500,000

The BodaBoda rider normally works from as early as 4.30a.m. to as late as 10.00p.m. depending on security in the area. He relies greatly on his mobile phone for clients to call for his services. His peak cycling times are early morning, lunch hour and dusk as persons head home from school and work. Translates to 4 – 5 hours in total daily riding time.

Due to the lack of know how and the complexity of electronics, the lack of power storage (i.e. a battery, and the cost) the Cycle dynamo is only effective for charging items and lighting while he is riding. Also, due to space or lack of, cost, insecurity and theft, attaching “Hard” Solar panels to the bikes has never been a viable sustainable option.

However, with the introduction of the Flexible Panels I believe wearing the panels on his back eliminates all these constraints. It also means he is generating power from sun-up to sun-down, an average of 12 hours a day.

Attaching the flexible panels on his back ensures:

  1. His phone is always charged guaranteeing customer accessibility
  2. He has light at home from the LED’s so saves on heavy power bills
  3. He always has an emergency light with his – LED
  4. The panels will not get stolen
  5. One can also offer charging facilities to client being carried

Other users
The BodaBoda is not the only potential user of the Flexible Panel by wearing it. Anyone spending long hour’s outdoors is a candidate. The farmer, fisherman, hawker’s and peddlers, city council outdoor workers, tourists, campers and hikers – just to mention a few.

Solar panel on a vest design by Dominic Wanjihia from Kenya

Attaching the Panel
It can be attached in a variety of ways. Velcro, Pop Buttons or simply attach Rucksack like straps so it can be worn with any garment. In the latter case the small pouch containing the controller and battery is attached to the back of the panels with Velcro.

Solar panel on a vest by Dominic Wanjihia in Kenya

If you would like to get in touch with Dominic, you can reach him at dwanjihia@yahoo.com or by phone at +254722700530

Hacking the FLAP Bag!

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on the FLAP bag project, a collaborative effort by Timbuk2, Portable Light and Pop!Tech. We at AfriGadget are helping to field-test these bags that have solar power and lighting on them, and get interviews of the individuals using them.

I was a little concerned when 5 of the 10 FLAP bags that I received before I left for Africa weren’t assembled – just fabric, thread and electronic components. It would mean that I’d have to find tailors in each country to put them together. However, it turned out that one of my favorite parts of getting the FLAP bags to Africa has been working with the tailors.

What I end up doing is explaining the bag and how it works, then showing them the one that isn’t put together and asking them if they would be willing to duplicate. If so, they can keep the bag. Then, I offer a challenge, taking the two-paneled Portable Light Kits from KVA, I then ask them if they could make something from their own materials, with their own designs, from it.

They had 2-3 days to come up with an idea, pick the fabric and create the bag. I then bought it from them for $20.

Kenya Bags

Kenya bag 1

Kenya bag 2

Kenya bag 3 - AfriGadget

Ghana Bags

Ghana bag 1

Ghana bag 2 - mud cloth

It should be noted that the gentlemen working on these had very little time to come up with their ideas and then implement them, as I was very much on the move. The local cloth use in Ghana was amazing, and I only wish the Kinte cloth (orange) one was done with real Kinte cloth instead of a print. The Kenyans used more ordinary fabric, but they were ingenious with the details around use, size and practicalities around security.

To really see the creativity at play in the Kenya bags, you have to either see them in person, or a video. Since I don’t have the bandwidth for a video now, that will have to come later.

A Kenyan Designer and Tailor with the FLAP Bag

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on the FLAP bag project, a collaborative effort by Timbuk2, Portable Light and Pop!Tech. We at AfriGadget are helping to field-test these bags that have solar power and lighting on them, and get interviews of the individuals using them.

Stephen Omollo and Erik Hersman

Jericho Market is a small market tucked away behind the industrial area in Nairobi, Kenya – near to Buruburu. It’s where you can find a lot of artisans who work on cloth-based projects, from clothes to bags and everything in between. I took off with David Ngigi, a local videographer friend of mine, to see who we could find. I brought two of the unstitched bags, two Portable Light kits and one completed bag as a sample.

The first person we spent time with was Joseph Muteti, a soft-spoken, 18-year veteran of the tailor trade in Nairobi. He specializes in making school bags for children and messenger-type bags. His bags are generally sturdy, with an added flair of embroidery to set them off for his customers.

Next up was Stephen Omollo, an energetic young designer who works on textiles ranging from shirts to bags. Style and usability are both important to Stephen, and his primary desire is to create items that people are proud to wear.

Interestingly, both Stephen and Joseph thought the bags were too large. Stephen wanted to cut in half, and Joseph by about a third.

Joseph Muteti - a tailor in Kenya

Giving the FLAP bag to some electricians

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on the FLAP bag project, a collaborative effort by Timbuk2, Portable Light and Pop!Tech. We at AfriGadget are helping to field-test these bags that have solar power and lighting on them, and get interviews of the individuals using them.

Hayford Bempong and David Celestin are electricians at Accra Polytechnic, who I wrote about last as they had fabricated an FM radio station from scratch and used it at Maker Faire Africa. Hayford and David seemed like just the type to take a look at the bag and really determine its use. Being college-level students, they have a different type of lifestyle than many, and that might mean more ideas and thoughts about what the FLAP bag could be used for.

Electrical Students in Ghana take on the FLAP bag from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

True to form, they were not nearly as excited about the quality of the stitching, or the textiles used, but very interested in the internal electrical components. They were excited about the idea of a bag with an in-built solar panel, and were curious as to wattage and the ability use step-ups and inverters to make it even more useful.

One suggestion that they made was around durability of the electrical components, specifically they suggested that a metal box should be built around it. Life in Africa can be quite rough on gear, and the chance that someone will sit on, drop, or crush this part is quite high.

Accra Polytechnic students and the FLAP bag

Mechanics and Tailors

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on the FLAP bag project, a collaborative effort by Timbuk2, Portable Light and Pop!Tech. We at AfriGadget are helping to field-test these bags that have solar power and lighting on them, and get interviews of the individuals using them.

I’d like to upload some of the video from today’s first big day in Ghana, but bandwidth considerations make that a little difficult right now. Instead, I’ll give an overview and show some pictures.


Henry Addo is a colleague of mine at Ushahidi, and he’s also the Ghanaian representative who is helping me hand out the bags, do interviews and have fun… He’s also a motorcycle rider, so I made sure to pack my helmet before leaving. We set off in search of likely prospects for both the FLAP bag project and Maker Faire Africa.

Me and Henry out on the motorcycles in Accra Ghana

I started out on a 250cc Honda streetbike that made me feel a little like Bowzer in Mario Kart. Fortunately, our first stop of the day was at Henry’s local motorcycle street mechanic at which I saw a beautiful 600cc Yamaha Terere being fixed up. The owner happened to be there, and he was game for a 2-day swap (with about $10/day thrown in for good measure…)!

This was also the first place that we started showing off one of the assembled bags to gauge the kind of reaction that we would receive from people. We didn’t do any formal interviews here, but had a good time of questions and people came up with some interesting thoughts on the use of the bag.

Henry Addo explaining the FLAP bag to mechanics in Accra Ghana

The head mechanic absolutely loved it, recounting the many times he was traveling around Ghana and needed light at night to fix his motorcycles.

The real estate businessman wanted to know the cost, thinking he would buy one right now for $100 from us (for bragging rights). Though he thought there was a market for them in Accra, that the real buyers would be found in rural villages.

The used-goods businessman wondered what would happen to the solar system if you tried to wash it to clean the bag. I didn’t have an answer, but I said that I thought it would be durable.


We ran all over town trying to find tailors of adequate skill to assemble the bags that had come in pieces. It turned out being a little bit of a challenge, but things took a great turn for the better and we found 2-for-1 going on in a market. Elijah and Mohammed both traditionally use West African cloth to make both jackets and bags, however, they were game for this challenge (especially as it scored them a free bag).

Tailor shop in Accra Ghana

Both tailors spent a great deal of time examining the textiles used and they made comments about the quality level of the bag. Interestingly, they didn’t think they would use the bags that much themselves, but they did think that their wives would find them useful.

I did full interviews with both of them, and will upload those in the near future. Henry will be going back to them in 2-3 weeks to see what has happened with the bags and how they are being used.

Interviewing Elijah in Ghana

Tailor interviews - Ghana

Knowing that we wouldn’t find too many others that could make the bags from the pieces we had, we also wanted to challenge them to something even more interesting. We asked what they would do if we gave them a basic portable light kit (2 solar panels instead of 1) and tried to make a bag with it, using traditional cloth elements and no set design pattern. Both decided to give that a try as well, with the caveat that some material would be hard to find, and we’ll report back on the outcome.