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An SMS car-tracking app inspired by Cameroon’s internet shutdown is set to spread across Africa

Quartz | Hampered by an internet shutdown in Cameroon’s troubled English-speaking regions in January 2017, Zuo Bruno, a young ethical hacker, was inspired to develop a car-tracking application using SMS. The application named Zoomed, whose adoption has been fast in Cameroon, is now on the verge of spreading across the continent.

Cameroon has been interrupting internet intermittently in those regions over the last 20 months in an attempt to stifle dissent following mass protests by English-speaking teachers and lawyers which erupted in 2016, first tampered with internet connectivity on Jan. 17, 2017. The internet shutdown lasted 94 days. The internet was again plug off in October same year, taking the duration of the shutdown to a record 230 days, according to Access Now.

The country shut down the internet in the region for 230 days between January 2017 and March 2018 and it has hurt Cameroon’s burgeoning tech ecosystem in Buea, known as “Silicon Mountain”. While few founders and their startups moved out of the hostile environment, others have been able to turn the ordeal into opportunity.

“Following the disconnection, I noticed a lot of cars were being stolen and realized these stolen cars had internet-based tracking solutions installed but the owners still couldn’t locate their cars,” Bruno, founder of Zuoix; an information security start-up said. He says the government’s internet shutdown gave him the incentive to conceive the whole idea.

This is why it was especially ironic in February when Bruno’s innovation earned him the President’s 2018 Grand Prize (Gold) for Excellence in Scientific Research and Innovation in Cameroon. The award has a FCFA 10 million ($ 17,500) prize. Another tech enthusiast, 17-year-old Nji Collins Gbah from the same internet-interrupted region managed to emerge champion of the Google Code-in competition in 2017.

The Zoomed app does car-tracking based solely on specific SMS commands which gives it an advantage in a continent where shaky internet connection and low penetration makes internet-based solutions less effective.. Bruno prices it at FCFA 120,000 ($ 212) and takes less than an hour to get the app installed into an auto-mobile.

With a GPS chip installed in the vehicle, a user can locate a car or fleet, with direction, speed and elevation information. The Zoomed app also has features which supports geofencing, immobilization, ignition alert, voice surveillance, two-way calling and SOS alarm with artificial intelligence. No internet connection is required.

Bruno said rather than create an internet-based version, the app will use USSD technology. A user can dial simple USSD code, such as *XYZ*12# and be able to locate their car, immobilize it or other features. Using that technology means there will be no additional costs to the user. USSD, which stands for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, is typically used by mobile operators, especially in Africa?—?where the market is primarily prepaid—for their internal applications such as balance checks, top-ups, data bundles and promotions.

Ever since the Zoomed app caught nationwide attention, it has been upgraded to make cars location-aware; enabling the cars to send distress calls based on their current location to police stations, gas stations, hospitals and emergency services.

In Cameroon, the app already has a large client base; with over 50 enterprises, amongst them the country two top companies, making use of the app. “We are moving forward to other countries including Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana, and hoping for good results. Our plan is to send this application Africa-wide so that more people can enjoy the services we offer, secure their cars and have a good night rest knowing that their cars are safe.”

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14 comments

  1. More grease to your elbow . Cameroonian might be smartest individuals in the world . We just need to harvest talent better and trust our abilities. Believe there is no ethnic/nationality that can compete against us .

    • Pinguiss unfortunately for you, the story says it all: Ambazonia cannot be stopped because it is not a person, it is a movement, a freedom movement. As you can see whether the people are francophone or anglophone, it is he anglophone environment which supports the creativity we see. Several other inventors have had to hide their inventions instead of patenting them because of police harassment.
      Ambazonia must be free.

    • What have we created ? Nothing. Sure, we are attempting to copy something from the coding ?

  2. Caneroonians are very smart, they have just been stifled by the same consciousness day in day out by the same regime. That’s why Ambazonia has emerged with the notion of an independent state so that they will be able to put in place an environment where smartism can happen. We cannot rely on our francophone brothers because they are complacent with Biya’s medicine of stagnation. We wish them goodluck, but we have dropped the mic, we are out! Its up to them to demand the regime to step down for change. if not they can go ahead and keep on living and partly living in such barrenness! We are out!

  3. … fine country so, but this man don spoilam!

  4. This has been available for many years now. It is NOT an invention. You can buy these gadget online from China and download corresponding apps on google play or apple store .
    It’s like our folks down there use there internet just for facebook and whatsapp.
    Anything new in Cameroon is an invention, even if its decades old to the world.

  5. Search ‘GPS car tracking’ on http://www.aliexpress.com

  6. Adopted Ambazonian

    Most of these tech entrepreneurs especially from the Zone Ambazonie are self-taught unlike us the francophones who rely 100% on French curriculum designed from Paris. our brothers like Atur Zang was lucky enough to benefit from presidential largesse, not taking anything away from his smartness and cardiopad invention. That alone places him higher on the level playing tech field. It is absolute ingenuity to see Collins Gbah beat all political hurdles and bag the google coding prize. Silicon mountain was an industry to be encouraged but this strongman administration that knows little or nothing about computers wasted no time to kill it. Till date the world’s only software that transmits data without internet comes from this place. What a fine approach to beat hackers? Congrats countrymen.

  7. FrancoAmbazonie

    Most of these tech entrepreneurs especially from the Zone Ambazonie are self-taught unlike us the francophones who rely 100% on French curriculum designed from Paris. our brothers like Atur Zang was lucky enough to benefit from presidential largesse not taking anything away from his smartness and cardiopad invention. That alone places him higher on the level playing tech field.

  8. FrancoAmbazonie

    It’s absolute ingenuity for Collins Gbah to beat all the hoops and win the google coding prize. Now we have Zuo Bruno. Thanks to Silicon mountain, the only software that could be used in transmitting data without the internet was born. This is a perfect way to circumvent hacking from all over. It was during my London commonwealth scholarship days that I came across these brothers mostly from Buea, too smart for my measure yet they confessed there were so many other smart students and were fortunate to be the lucky ones. Francophonie is killing Cameroon knowledge.

  9. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Bravo to Silicon Mountain and all its talents !

  10. AMBA got wonder talents, googd Job Boy.