Kenya ride-hailing app taps blockchain to provide ‘trusted’ drivers

The age of ride-hailing apps has seen companies like Uber and Lyft become global giants, upending the pre-existing business models. In Nairobi, one startup has recognized a challenge unique to Kenya, and many other developing nations—the difficulty in finding a driver commuters can trust, and is using blockchain technology to bridge the gap.

UTU Technologies launched two years ago with the goal of laying the foundations for a more human-friendly internet. And while it has gone on to build a number of products and services, it’s most known as the operator of Maramoja. This is a ride-hailing app, similar to Uber, but unlike its San Francisco-based peer, Maramoja relies on trust, not cost, to match its drivers with their clients.

Speaking to CoinGeek, UTU Technologies’ Rahul Srivatsa explained, “Uber and Lyft give you drivers based on cost reasons as opposed to whom the customer would be comfortable riding with. Maramoja uses social graphs and a dynamic feedback mechanism through which we can recommend drivers you are most likely to trust. Plus the ability for users to provide video feedback makes it a more personal experience.”

Getting a ride is easy—you just log on to the Maramoja app, or access it via its website. In a few minutes, a driver will pick you up. However, this will not be just any random driver. The Maramoja app will use recommendations from your friends, friends of friends and other people in your network, including social media.

The app is a godsend for Nairobi, a city where taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging their clients at will. Others have been known to steal and even rape their clients. Maramoja gives the clients the peace of mind, knowing that the driver has been recommended by someone they trust.

The use of blockchain has had its own challenges, Srivatsa told us. For one, the technology isn’t as widely known or used in Nairobi. However, he believes that it’s only a matter of time before blockchain becomes a household name. He stated, “While educating the populace on blockchain might be hard, once they see the benefits of using it and as we create a user-friendly interface, things will scale quickly.”

UTU Technologies raised $500,000 in December 2019 and as Srivatsa revealed, these funds have been channeled to “build the product, scope the AI for different use cases, start building the blockchain protocol and hire more talent.” The company currently has a team of 35 at its headquarters in Nairobi. It also has a research and collaboration partnership with the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

The company has big dreams, seeking to build models of trust for the modern era. Srivatsa told us, “UTU’s vision is to become the trust infrastructure of the entire internet, replacing anonymous star ratings, reviews, and scores as the de facto trust mechanisms of digital commerce. We do this in service of our mission to protect data and privacy as we help make the internet a safer, more trusted place to gather, share, work, and trade. Furthermore, as we develop our blockchain protocol, we will soon be able to use privacy -preserving smart contracts to perform transactions.”

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