TranscriptWelcome to Third Angle, where you find us at the forefront of the electric mobility revolution in Kenya.
A staggering 10 million electric vehicles were sold worldwide in 2022. And while we all know that the future of transport is electric, the shift to electric vehicles can bring different challenges in different parts of the world. If you’ve been to East Africa, you may be familiar with boda bodas. If not, they’re small taxi bikes commonly used by couriers or to transport people. Boda boda are generally used as motorcycle taxis or last-mile delivery for many sorts of things in Nairobi. This could be from food deliveries to courier services, to taxis for general people to move from bus stop to their final destination, and so on. In Kenya, people use motorbikes to take something that came off a truck to the last place. They generally carry very heavy loads, or very many people, and a lot of society relies on the motorcycle as the last part of a journey in any form.
Roam Electric was founded in 2017 and aims to provide easy-to-use, affordable electric transport solutions to Africa. Although the company started in Sweden, it is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, and addresses the unique needs of the Kenyan market. The company started by converting safari vehicles. Their aim is to electrify Africa “one vehicle at a time’, which started with safari vehicles, where they pulled out the diesel engines and made them electric. Roam has built a custom-made electric bike called the Roam Air, which is a sustainable electric alternative to the traditional boda boda bikes. The company has also built electric charging stations, and has made Kenya’s first locally manufactured electric bus, the Roam Move. The motorcycles are built by a local workforce, which is 39% female, at East Africa’s largest electric motorcycle plant called Roam Park. They were also finalists in last year’s Earthshot prize.
The company developed the motorbike right from the ground up. The Roam team designed their own frame and a lot of the parts. The company launched the product in September 2022, trying to grow the electric perspective and make electric bikes the new thing in Nairobi and in Kenya but without changing the user case. They made it robust, simple to use, durable and reliable, so it can get you from point A to point B, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter what you’re carrying. The bikes have a carrying capacity of up to 220 kilos and can drive in thick-off-road mud without causing damage to the electrical system. You can ride through torrential rains when the roads flood and all of this. It’s a workhorse. Because users are so reliant on the vehicle as a source of business, it needed to be reliable, robust, simple to use, and fit into a culture that is already established and already knows what they’re doing.
In terms of comparison to petrol bikes, and other bikes you see on the market, electric is a lot cheaper. It has very low charging costs. To get you 75 kilometres of range, it costs about 80 shillings to charge. You can rent a battery from Roam. This allows customers to leave one battery behind to charge and carry on with their business. Obviously, being electric, it doesn’t have as many moving parts as internal combustion bikes. So you don’t have oils to change, you don’t have filters, you don’t have a lot of the mechanical maintenance that you usually have. In the same way that when you buy a phone and you don’t take it for service, you don’t have to do anything to the motor or the battery, or the controller. You charge it, and if it has power, it works perfectly. As the company says, “Electrifying Africa one vehicle at a time” is a big part of it. But it only makes sense if it’s affordable to the people.
Roam sees a lot of companies coming into Africa trying to build and convert as much as this, and they are all for it because their mission is to electrify Africa and make as many vehicles as possible. So all competitors are embraced, it’s a big world challenge that we’re trying to commit to and trying to develop towards. It’s a win across the board. Many people are driving towards going electric, so rather than seeing them as competition, the company is happy to see that happening.
A lot of the Roam engineers are locally based. The company has a strong belief that the Kenyan market has fantastic, brilliant engineers, and it’s something they are very passionate about. Roam specialises in specific areas of development that might not be too common. This is, anywhere in the world, a challenge to find them to recruit for. So being in Kenya isn’t specifically a disadvantage. It’s being in a new field that requires them to step out and recruit for specific talent and certain skill sets. The workforce is around 39% female, from the production line to engineers, to after-sales. Just giving the ability for people to do a lot of technical stuff that generally doesn’t happen too often in Kenya, and the ability to dive into deep engineering and deep research and development is something.
The Roam Rapid was designed and developed for the mass transit system, or BRT – bus rapid transport. Deployable across Africa. Africa’s future is electric, and Africa has all the resources it needs to produce electric vehicles from nickel, cobalt, lithium and everything, and a very young population – the median age is about 28 years – so it’s a new area to venture and go into. As Roam Rapid specialist at roam Dennis Wakaba says, “The next vehicles starting from today will be electric. And that means we need to be prepared and capitalise on it. So Africa’s future is electric, and we have to capture the moment.”
Collaboration is incredibly important to the Roam engineering team in Kenya so that they can make sure their electric vehicles meet the needs of the market. One of the tools that helps them to do this is PTC’s cloud-based computer-aided design platform Onshape. Roam is growing fast and becoming more of an OEM-style company, so they needed their CAD data to be in one place and managed through quite a robust PDM system – product data management. And this in turn led them to Onshape, which is a true multi-user environment. it allows designers, internal teams, customers, and external partners to access CAD and PDM data to collaborate in real-time at every stage from conception to production.
Onshape’s built-in PDM system has a powerful set of tools for managing and controlling design data. Whether it’s 3D CAD, or even other documents and files that are part of a design project, we eliminate file copies and transfers entirely and we remove the most frustrating bottlenecks that you associate with old-fashioned, traditional CAD and PDM that are based on files and copies and locking and checkout. All that goes away. Teams can edit the same design concurrently, real-time updating, there’s no need to check in, check out lock files. You store and track metadata associated with parts and assemblies, drawings, which enables users to find and reuse existing designs more efficiently. You save a lot of time, you save a lot of money. We also get a lot of fans for Onshape from the customer support system that we have that makes working and navigating issues in Onshape very easily.
Whether you’re seeking support inside your team, from maybe an expert on your team, or calling on Onshape’s technical support, the same tools that we give to teams to collaborate with each other in working, we can use to do great support across teams and from our team to yours. Another key factor is automatic updates to Onshape every three weeks. Roam’s really impressed by the fact that Onshape updates come out automatically with no work on their part every three weeks. Everyone on the team is on the same version all the time. Those updates have really benefited Roam in their CAD and PDM workflows.
Huge thanks to Jon, and to Masa and Dennis for showing us around the Roam facility in Nairobi.
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This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Recording by Michael Kaloki. Sound design and editing by Clarissa Maycock. And music by Rowan Bishop.
Masa Kituyi, Micro Mobility Product Owner at Roam
More About Roam
Dennis Wakaba, Sales Executive, Roam
Jon Hirschtick, EVP and Chief Evangelist at PTC
More About Onshape
More to Come
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