As far as hobbies go, most people will tell you that they read, work out or maybe Netflix and chill! Not the founders of Byte Tech, though. Three young men, two of whom are still students at university, have turned their hobby into a tech startup company.
CEO Ahmad Alrashed, Hackerspace Manager Jarrah Alhassan and Community Operations Manager Khalifa Alkhalifa like tinkering with electronics. They build devices and little machines and write the code that makes them function. For most of us, that sounds very scary. But they assure me that it is a lot easier than it sounds or looks.
They start with kits that are easily available on the market like the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino. They are micro controllers, or mini computers that can fit in the palm of your hand. Stripped down to their basic components such as power, processing, memory and input/output ports. Naturally, each kit has different options and abilities, but they are the core of any creation.
Ahmad showed me a heart-rate monitor that he quickly whipped up in under an hour so they could demo at exhibitions to showcase the kind of things their products can be used for. It looked very retro. The exposed motherboard, wires, a sensor and a small LED screen work together and in a few seconds you get a reading of how fast your heart is beating. All of the parts are available and you just need a few lines of code to get it done.
The entrepreneurs started out as hobbyists, working on their own projects when they realized that there was a growing market. More people were getting interested and there was a need for parts, tools and knowledge. They started providing several hardware brands on their website for sale. They intentionally keep their prices affordable and their choices diverse. Making them really accessible for anyone interested in getting started. Byte Tech is on a mission to spread awareness and promote technology innovation. And while you can order online from abroad, it is so much easier and faster to get the parts from them, plus you get excellent and knowledgeable help from the company owners themselves.
Their biggest obstacle is the persistent misconception about what they actually do. When people hear about their endeavor they automatically think “robotics”. And while you can use the technology to build robots, that is not what they are about. The Raspberry Pi for example can be used to build a fully functional low cost computer. Or you can use it to build wearable technology or to automate your home. The Arduino is less powerful, but the learning curve is less steep and you can go from very simple musical instruments to extremely complicate systems that can track eye movement and convert it to written text. The only limit is your imagination, as clichéd as that might sound.
After a couple of months of being in business Byte Tech team realized that what they really needed to provide in Kuwait was collaboration and community. The electronics that they use, regardless of brand, have one thing in common. They are all open-source hardware solutions. Open-source means that the core technology is not proprietary. Anyone can break it open, look inside it, change it and build on it. Inventors readily provide their schematics and code for free on the internet. The movement has helped innovators all over the world collaborate and help each other. No one has to reinvent the wheel, you will always start where everyone else has finished. Innovation grows exponentially faster that way.
Realizing this, the trio went ahead and opened the first Hackerspace in Kuwait. It is a place for collaboration, building together and the sharing of expertise. For a monthly fee, you have full access to their space, tools and help. Because of the nature of the open-source communities online, finding answers to any question can be easy but the physical space offers so much more. It is the equivalent of a writing club for authors or writers but for electronics geeks. It is like a clubhouse, aligned with their vision of creating a community that shares interests in technology in Kuwait, so they can help themselves and the country. They are working for a future where we are creating the technology instead of just consuming it.
Large sofas are available for lounging. A large table that is perfect as a workspace. And the blackboard walls that members can use for brainstorming or even just community messages and notes. The atmosphere is really friendly, cozy and inviting. The team is building a 3-D printer too. Boxes of tools line the shelves. Everything you need to build the next big thing makes it easier and faster to get started. It also keeps the cost low for the individual. After all, sharing is caring. They also have a small library of books for old-school paper lovers. And they haven’t forgotten about drinks and coffee, either. You will be fully caffeinated, so you can focus on creating the next digital masterpiece.
They really are committed to their open-source ideology. They offer their help to anyone who asks for it, not just their customers. Workshops and training sessions are in their future plans. They have their eyes set on the younger demographic. We have already seen how interested school-aged kids are in coding. It is the natural progression for them to move from software to hardware.
We are sure that Byte Tech will fulfill their vision of providing everyone regardless of their age or skill level the appropriate platform for learning about technology and digital making in Kuwait. We can’t wait to see what they will build next. The barrier for entry is so low that we think even us right-brained writers can build their own little gadgets for fun. Maybe we could automate our coffee maker.