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Was your car stolen? Stop the thieves in their tracks with a simple SMS

From Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Florence Obondo, for CNN
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Kelvin Macharia Kuria is the founder of Sunrise Tracking, a car security company based in Kenya. Kelvin Macharia Kuria is the founder of Sunrise Tracking, a car security company based in Kenya.
Security made in Kenya
Tracking stolen cars
Follow your own vehicle
Send a text, stop the car
International plans
  • 23-year-old graduate started vehicle security tech firm following several robberies
  • "... because immediately after high school one of my relatives was car jacked"
  • His start up offers GPS tracking, CCTV and ability to turn engines off remotely via SMS

Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- What would you do if your car had just been stolen? Take out your phone and call the police? Sure, you could that, but what if instead of asking authorities for help you simply sent a text message? Moreover, what if that SMS went straight to a hidden device inside your car and immediately immobilized the vehicle's engine?

True, the thieves could still get away, but you'll know at least that you have good chances of recovering your stolen vehicle.

This anti-theft solution is the latest service offered from Kenyan entrepreneur Kelvin Macharia Kuria, founder of Nairobi-based car security company Sunrise Tracking.

"The reason as to why I decided to venture into the business of security is simply because immediately after high school one of my relatives was carjacked," explains the 23-year-old IT developer. "And it was unfortunate we were not able to recover the vehicle," he continues.

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"I thought I could come up with a way to track the vehicle, and once they're stolen it's easy to recover them. Years later when I started my business, our office was broken into most of our electronics were stolen. It came to my mind we also need a solution for such a thing."

Think of it like familiar locating app "Find my phone" but instead of your misplaced mobile, it's your missing vehicle. The product on offer from Macharia's startup has a three-pronged approach: GPS tracking, CCTV and lastly, it offers clients the ability to disable the vehicle's engine remotely.

Whilst Macharia isn't the only one to offer such a product, his anti-theft device is proving popular in a country where carjacking is the most prevalent form of crime -- two years after its launch, Sunrise Tracking has 500 individual clients, with 35 corporates also using the company's car-tracking and fleet management system.

Macharia says: "Anytime you have installed a tracking system in a vehicle we can be able to track the vehicle using our fleet management system. Also the client has access to his or her own account to see how the vehicle is moving, from what point to the next, to get reports from where the vehicle has been moving from."

But it's the ability to disable the engine remotely via SMS that makes this security solution stand out.

"Once a stop command has been sent to the vehicle, the hardware understands the language of that command and immediately cuts acceleration fuel function," says Macharia. "The vehicle immobilizes immediately until a resume command is send to mobilize back the car."

Chris Brauer is the director of Innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London. He says Macharia's device is a good example of a positive mobile security solution. "It's the same trend as mobile maps supplanting dedicated portable GPS devices or users adopting smart home security solutions on your tablet instead of using a home security company."

For many in the mobile generation, they are used to taking control of aspects of their lives through their devices.
Chris Brauer, director of Innovation, Goldsmiths

He adds: "For many in the mobile generation, they are used to taking control of aspects of their lives through their devices. Taking control also often meets putting enormous trust in personal technologies. In the past hackers have exploited security weaknesses in mobile locator devices to monitor movements and patterns of a vehicle and even impersonate it. In the short term, mobile security devices with mainstream appeal and price points will reduce carjacking and thefts. In the longer term, it all depends on whether the security providers can stay one step ahead of the hackers and thieves."

Meanwhile, Macharia -- who has been tinkering with various innovative ideas since high school -- continues to focus on improving his offering despite the big problems faced by startups in Kenya.

"Being a young entrepreneur of course is a very huge challenge in terms of financials, in terms of you starting a business," he says. "The other challenge that we are facing currently is that not many people are willing to adopt the locally made products within Kenya."

He adds: "Carjacking and robbery in Kenya and in particularly in Nairobi is so high, but since security is so sensitive clients opt to go for big and international companies having in mind only such companies can give them better quality service hence killing the local innovation products.

"In the next few years to come, we hope that Sunrise tracking is also going to attract the international market."

Watch the video below for a longer interview with Macharia.

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