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Jerry, a Do-It-Together Server that Connects Makers in Africa

Today, I want to tell you the story of Jerry, a server made from old water jugs (jerrycans). Jerry is gathering around it an international community in Europe (France, Germany) and Africa (Algeria, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin). People meet during DIY workshops to build Jerry together and start creating alternative WiFi networks and services around it. An Open Hardware success story led by passionate people.


The Jerry team today!

I met Romain Chanut, the one behind this whole adventure, about three years ago in Paris thanks to MakeSense, an international community of super active members supporting social entrepreneurship all over the world.  At the time, he was working with HederaTech, a French startup developping open source hosting solutions for businesses. He already had a strong interest for the open source hardware movement. He was freshly graduated from a business school and was looking to make a change in the world.


Romain Chanut, building Jerry

Hedera Technology started with the dream of creating open source hardware servers to support IT infrastructure development of underserved countries. Running out of capital, the company had to pivot and move towards B2B activities, offering environmentally-friendly Cloud infrastructures to businesses. Despite this change of perspective, Jeremy Bourdoncle and Antoine Castaing, Hedera Technology co-founders, decided to support a side project in partnership with top-notch French design school ENSCI (Paris Design Institute). The idea was to build an ecoresponsible server that would be ready to be shown in June 2011 at Futur-En-Seine, the one week tech festival happening in Paris every year. This side project was the starting point of what would eventually become Jerry. At ENSCI , Romain met Laure Guillou, Xavier Auffret and Chemsedine Herriche, three design students who got interested by the idea and decided to participate. Together, they developed the first prototype. The goal was to create a server solution that would be low-cost and easy to build. They decided to use old components coming from broken computers and assembly them into an empty can of water. Here is how the first Jerry looked like:


Jerry, DIY server in a can


Inside Jerry

Jerry is an open source hardware project that is fully upcycled and very low-cost. It gives a new life to computer components that would otherwise go in the trash. It takes about a long afternoon to build a Jerry and install the OS. The server runs on Ubuntu and can be used for all kind of projects. All documentation to make a Jerry is freely shared online. PDF is here.


All you need to make your own Jerry

The project was finished on time and presented at Futur-En-Seine in June 2011. This could have been the end of the experiment, but the team decided to keep things going. They applied to Challenge Humanitech, a student contest rewarding innovative projects using technologies for a humanitarian goal. And… Jerry won the First Prize, 5000 euros and a great confidence boost!

With the Humanitech Prize came the motivation to grow the Jerry project and find its model. Romain started organizing workshops to teach people how to build a Jerry. He would also go to many events in order to present Jerry and meet other passionate open source hardware and social entrepreneurs. He spent a few weeks in summer traveling around East Europa to present Jerry in hacker spaces and events such as Chaos Communication Camp.


Mitch Altman hugging Jerry


Jerry at Chaos Communication Camp

Pretty quickly, he realized that if he wanted to organize more workshops and make Jerry more useful he would need to learn about computer science and find a team member who would know his way around programming and computers. Having organized a series of workshop, it also became clear that it was hard for each participant to build their own Jerry in the short time of the workshop, and many of them didn’t know what do with it next.

Jerry had to go from an individual project to a community-based one. The formula, which proved its success later, was to organize “Do-It-Together” workshops where all participants learn and build Jerry together.

New members joined the Jerry project. Emilien Ah-Kiem and Justine Hannequin joined Romain to become fully involved in the project.

One of the strengths of Jerry is to take advantage of social media. The team shares pictures and news on Facebook, ask for advice and feedback for each new idea.  They also launch a website.

Jerry won the first prize of a KissKissBankBank event (competing against 2 other startups), they demoed their prototype at the Open World Forum 2011, organized workshops in hackerspaces such as Fabelier or FacLab in the Paris region, are always present at local DIY events and conferences. They are super active. If you spend some time in the French maker scene, you would hear about Jerry very quickly!

A community was born. ShellMates Club from ESI is the computer club of a reknown engineering school in Algeria. Students contacted the Jerry team for organizing a workshop in their school. Romain, Emilien and Justine made the trip to Algeria. The challenge of this workshop was to find a solution for a better WiFi access as each student is allowed only 600Mo/day. A handful of Jerrys were built in order to be used as proxy for dividing up the quotas between students.


Jerry Workshop at ESI in Algeria


Opening of the jerrican during the workshop

In Ivory Coast, the interest for Jerry led to the organization of a Jerry Marathon in Abidjan. Makers gathered for a week-end to build a bunch of Jerrys together. Looking at the Storify of the event, this Jerry marathon reminds me a lot of RepRap building events. Jerry creates the same motivation, energy and pleasure for building a machine both useful and ambitious. Once built, each Jerry is dedicated to a special task. One of them is now a service to send and receive SMS, one is hosting a private cloud and an other one is dedicated to sharing files. Ubuntu, XAMPP and OwnCloud are installed on the upcycled machines.


Jerry Marathon in Abidjan

There is now also a JerryClan Togo led by active members of the Togolan FabLab Woelab and a JerryClan Benin. This video has been taken at Woelab during one of the presentation on what can be made with a Jerry.

In an article about Jerry, Florent Youzan, active member of JerryClan Togo and co-founder of Afriworkers gives a few example of uses:

  • “make a Jerry server using the collaborative tool Zimbra for managing a non-profit email inbox or administration system of a school counting more than 1000 users.

  • build a Jerry server that is dedicated to an online course or sharing documents for students outside the university.

  • install open source educational games for kids in order to make them comfortable with computers

  • use Jerry as a simple computer using open source software (Debian, Fedora…)”


Workshop Jerry in Togo

Jerry has been used for bringing WiFi to OuiShare Fest, the big event about the sharing economy that happened in Paris in May.


Jerry WiFi at OuiShare Fest

The Jerry teams are not making a living from the project yet. Everyone is volunteering and have jobs on the side. The project is still new and has to find its model.

What to learn from the Jerry story:

    • Don’t stay alone! Talk with people about your idea, show your work and be open for everyone to improve it. It’s more fun together!
    • Go online. You don’t need to have a clean social media strategy to succeed. Being all over the place works too. Jerry is on Facebook (page and groups), Twitter, Scoopit, Storify, Tumblr… and it doesn’t really matters if everything is up-to-date but at least it’s really alive!
    • Go to events, demo your project. Travel when you can. Don’t wait to have money to do it.
    • Find cool names! Part of the pleasure of being part of the Jerry community is that it’s fun. Who doesn’t want to be part of a JerryClan?

Happy Jerry building,


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