PE firm makes solar tablets

Thulisile Volwana and Sabelo Sibanda pictured here with the solar-powered Millbug Vuya Tablet PC.

A new solar-powered Android tablet PC is set to hit the shelves later this year.

After the initial rejection of their device, the two tenacious Eastern Cape entrepreneurs refused to be deterred.

Sabelo Sibanda and Thulisile Volwana are the founders of Port Elizabeth-based technology firm Millbug that manufactures the device – the Millbug Vuya Tablet PC – which will retail for R1 500 when it hits shelves before the end of this year.

The device could change South Africa’s internet landscape since it will widen web access to those in rural areas. Sibanda says when the two started the business two years ago they initially operated it as an e-commerce firm selling trendy women’s clothing online.

“Through constant research we began to notice that our clients were more inclined to purchase digital products than tactile products from their mobile phones – which happened to be the primary internet access medium of our target market.”

The pair then decided that an affordable tablet would be the best way to change this trend and to potentially grow sales.

“At first we wanted to import tablets from China and sell it to that market in order to stimulate a richer user experience which would in boost sales.”

This, however, did not pan out due to the laws around importing electronics. With very little experience, but a lot of passion, the two decided to design their own device to address the problem.

“So we learnt as much as we could about electronics, the creation of schematics, design and commercialisation and to cut a very long story short, we had the product ready two years from the idea’s inception.”

Initially the tablet was intended to enrich consumers’ online experience, but as the product evolved the two realised that the potential of making internet access available to South Africans in places with intermittent or no access to electricity. This sparked the idea for a solar-powered tablet.

“The need for a solar-powered tablet PC is immense. Without getting into too much detail our research found that the Millbug Vuya Tablet PC will have a major impact on the education, agriculture, finance, government and retail sectors. It is estimated that between one and three percent of content online is generated in Africa. This is alarmingly little and our tablet will go a long way in increasing this.”

To keep costs down for the consumer, they decided that the tablet would be produced abroad. The pair would not divulge which country the device was being produced in.

“We have spoken to a number of local contract manufacturers but their prices just do not compete with those elsewhere,” explains Sibanda. He says the toughest part about coming up with an idea of this nature is the rejection in the early stages. Very few believed it was possible and experts advised the two to abandon it.

But, he says, the pair kept going, because they realised they could change lives with their product.

The seven-inch tablet, which runs on the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system, has a 1.2 GHz processor, 512 megabyte of memory and 4 gigabyte storage. It is sold with a solar charger with a detachable power bank. It can also be charged the more conventional way including from a wall socket or USB port.

Millbug Vuya Tablet PC, Sabelo Sibanda, , Thulisile Volwana

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