You can stop car thieves in their tracks at the touch of a button

Motorists on the Thika super highway. Brothers Douglas Mwangi and Jacob Maina have developed a car tracking system that uses the mobile phone. PHOTO | FILE
Motorists on the Thika super highway. Brothers Douglas Mwangi and Jacob Maina have developed a car tracking system that uses the mobile phone. PHOTO | FILE 

Carjackers have cornered you and there are two options left: surrender your vehicle or face the music. Two Nairobi-based brothers will have two quick questions for you if you ever find yourself in such a situation.

One, why scream when you can press a button to notify your friends via SMS? Two, why risk your life chasing after the carjackers when you can send an SMS to deactivate your vehicle’s engine?

Mr Douglas Mwangi, 26, and Mr Jacob Maina, 25, want you to take it easy when carjacked to reduce your chances of getting hurt.

They say they can increase the probability of you recovering a stolen vehicle before thieves can tamper with any tracking mechanism in it.

The two have developed a system that works like a phone inside a vehicle — with a Sim card to boot — which can send messages and make calls automatically.

Based at Nairobi’s Viewpark Towers, the two run AfricarTrack Solutions, a company that deals with the gadgets.

Press an emergency button next to the driver’s seat and an SMS will be sent to numbers you had previously keyed into the system.

Whoever receives the text will get geographical co-ordinates of your location, the nearest town plus the time of the day. A typical message will read: “Help! -01.2563, +036.6999: 5pm LIMURU.”

Soon after the emergency contact receives the text, the phone in the car will call them, which will enable them listen to the conversation between you and your assailants.

If you buy the cabin camera, which is the brothers’ latest innovation, you will also have the ability to command the system to take photo snapshots from the vehicle through a phone or a computer.

“It’s like the normal CCTV camera. The owner will get photos of people inside the car, including the driver,” says Mr Maina, a project planning and management graduate from Moi University.

The “magic” does not end there. If someone steals your vehicle’s battery, it will send you a message. Ditto if it detects suspicious vibrations outside the vehicle.

“It sends you an SMS whenever your car is touched or moved at the parking. Normally, when your car’s alarm goes off, you rarely hear it if you are far from the vehicle or in another town or in a noisy place. But with our system, it sends you an SMS notification once the alarm goes off,” notes Mr Mwangi.

A graduate in purchasing and supplies management from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Mr Mwangi adds that the system can also keep track of the vehicle’s speed.

“The system will send you an SMS notification whenever your driver accelerates beyond the speed limit you set. Similarly, you can check the speed at which your car is travelling and its location by sending an SMS to the system whereby it replies back with an SMS showing its actual speed, time and date,” he notes.

In case your attackers are driving with you in the car and have given you the slightest opportunity to use your phone, the developers have programmed the system to make a call without being noticed.

“Just text a friend or a policeman’s number to the system. It will call them automatically and let them hear what is happening,” Mr Maina states.

A car owner will need to buy a separate line for the system and ensure it is active and is loaded with airtime at all times in order to make maximum use of it. You also need to memorise the phone number in case you have to send a text from someone’s phone.

Mr Maina says that if you have been robbed of everything including your phone, you can borrow another one and send a command to the phone in the car, provided you remember the password.

“The password should be the first part of every SMS sent to the system, or else it will not be executed. For example if your password is DIgitalBusiness, sending an SMS “DigitalBusinessSTP” will command the car to stop from any other phone,” says Mr Maina, who advises against revealing the password to people you don’t trust.

“The car does not stop at once like it happens with most other systems in the market. It reduces the speed gradually before cutting off the fuel and power supplies. This prevents accidents or loss of control that may put other motorists at risk,”

The brothers were inspired to develop the tracking system following the loss of their father’s pick-up.

“In 1996, when we were young, our dad’s pick up was stolen and driven to a different province. The police tried to trace and recover the vehicle in vain. It was agonising for my parents and the family,” says Mr Mwangi.

“Surprisingly, the car was traced nine years later through a tip-off from a friend. We almost lost our lives trying to bring it back. To date, it has never been recovered due to lengthy processes. We grew up desiring to develop a system to ensure no one goes through the agony we went through.”

They said that they have been working on the tracking system for the past one year. “We wanted to reduce the response time between the time the car is stolen, reported to the police and the recovery of the vehicle.

“This meant reducing the ample time that thugs enjoy before response from the authorities, thus comfortably escaping with the stolen vehicles,” they said.

Though none of them took an engineering course at university, Mr Maina has some training on securities and investment analysis.

“The training we received at the university really helped us to seek solutions to problems facing our country Kenya through innovations as well create jobs,” they say.

It costs Sh20,000 to have the microphone system installed and Sh5,000 more to get the camera fixed.

They say they have had a good run in the few months that they have been selling the devices, which are mass produced in India, Germany and Italy.

“We started the actual installation eight months ago and we have received amazing reception. We are currently installing them in up seven and 15 cars weekly and we believe every driver in Kenya has to have our product,” says Mr Maina.