SmartMatatu from Echo Mobile

James Mwangi from Echo Mobile is a JKUAT Alumnus who studied B.Sc Telecommunication and Information Engineering. Echo Mobile’s newest invention, SmartMatatu is set to revolutionize the matatu industry promoting safety and increased productivity from the matatu drivers.

Introducing SmartMatatu.

  • Who is Echo Mobile? What do you guys do?

Echo is a tech company focused on mobile-first communication. Echo develops and operates a mobile-first customer engagement and marketing platform. Through our platform, our clients leverage mobile technology to engage with their end-users and gather information in real time to understand what is going on in the field.

  • What is Smart Matatu?

SmartMatatu is an RCT (Randomized Controlled Trial) project conducted by a group of Ph.D. economics students from The University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and implemented by Echo mobile. It aims at improving road safety and matatu productivity through feeding important driver and matatu information to the owner.

  • How does the app work? What does it do?

The technology includes an in-vehicle sensor monitor that reports on vehicle velocity, hard braking/accelerating, sharp turning, off-road/route driving, distance traveled and transmits data via GSM. A web application (Echo sense) collects and analyzes each device’s data streams, and presents it to the owners via an android application in real time.

The application is very intuitive and the Matatu owners use it to view the aforementioned parameters i.e. Productivity events (Real-time location and mileage), and safety events (Over speeding, over accelerating, hard braking, off-road driving, sharp turning). The owner is at liberty to change the settings on which events he would like to receive SMS or push notifications. The application also ranks their drivers driving behaviors in comparison with other drivers on the same route.

As part of the research, the owners are required to respond to a short 5-question survey in the app regarding their day’s revenue and expenses.

  • Who is the intended user of the app?

Currently, the intended user of the app are small business owners, in this case, Matatu owners that own at most 1 matatu to help them better manage it in terms of productivity and safety.

  • What inspired the development of an app for the ever stubborn, (some may say impenetrable) matatu industry?

The Matatu industry in Kenya is the leading cause of traffic-related deaths. This is as a result of the unruly and reckless driving behaviors of Matatu drivers. This is further a consequence of the contractual behavior of a Matatu Owner and driver. The vehicle is basically leased to the drivers with a target needed at the end of the day by the owner. Consequently, drivers are incentivized to engage in risky driving to surpass the target and pocket the left over. More so, the Matatu industry is very unproductive due to the high costs of repairs, maintenance, and insurance hence, low-profit margins for the owners. Having visibility into their businesses remotely helps to alleviate these two problems – safety and productivity – and was the inspiration behind the application,

  • Challenges (if any)

Recruitment – As a research project, recruiting owners that fit the project’s qualifications was a challenge.

Tech-savvy owners – These were very few in the industry and it turned out many of the owners did not even have Smartphones so we resolved to buy for them and training them on the app.

Data validity – The data submitted in the daily survey is not clean and we had to employ enumerators to clean the data for easier analysis.

  • What should we expect next after Smart matatu?

Having finished the full roll-out of the project, i.e. Having 300 Matatus all over Nairobi installed with our device, we expect to collect both human and sensor data for the next six months. An analysis will be done at the end of this period by the economists from UCB and they will report back on findings (If indeed the technology helped improve safety and productivity in the public transport sector).

Going forward, a willingness-to-pay survey will be conducted on the Matatu owners to determine the commercial viability of the technology.

For more updates on this awesome application and how it works, check out their blog here.


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