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HIT dropout builds functional airtime vending machine prototype from scrap

George Chingore presenting the Protonics airtime vending machines
George Chingore presenting the Protonics airtime vending machines

George Chingore, a Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) dropout has built a functional airtime vending machine prototype from scrap computer components he assembled through the help of friends. George Chingore pitched his airtime vending machine prototype at Pitch Night hosted by Emerging Ideas.

George was presenting his venture called Protonics which he hopes will replace human airtime vendors and provide a revenue stream that works a 24 hour shift.


There was a bit of an uneasiness within the crowd during George’s presentation because in all fairness, the device looked like something that wouldn’t work. However, after demoing the device to the audience, the device immediately stole the Night as people queued to get a glimpse of a Zimbabwean made vending machines, and yes, to actually buy airtime from it.

Because of cash challenges that startup face, The Protronic airtime vending machine prototype is made of old PC components that George collected from friends. I spoke to George and he said he had hoped to make users interface with the device via a touch screen but for now the device uses an LCD screen embedded inside an old CPU shell that also houses the processor and a GSM communicator that does the magic in airtime transactions electronically.

An audience member enters his phone number on the Protronics airtime vending machine prototype
An audience member enters his phone number on the Protronics airtime vending machine prototype
The Protronic airtime vending machine has a regular QWERTY keyboard as a keypad
The Protronic airtime vending machine has a regular QWERTY keyboard as a keypad

You wont need to familiarise with the buttons on the Protronics airtime vending machine because the keypad, at least on the prototype, is made from your regular qwerty keyboard used on desktop PCs. The keyboard only displays the numbers area to the right whilst letters and everything else is covered by a white cardboard paper.

Although the device does communicate with a mobile network and sends the airtime to buyers electronically within seconds, it still needs a bill validator for people to deposit cash into it.

George didn’t go all the way to reveal how much he needs to produce more (better looking) devices like these but judging from the excitement and feedback he got from the audience, George may just be starting on an exciting journey.

Tommy Deuschle, Emerging Ideas Co-founder and host, called it the “most fascinating “thing he’d ever seen at Pitch Night and he is not alone in reaching that verdict. Right after the pitches were over, people quickly gathered to see the Protronics airtime vending machine in action stealing the limelight from two other pitches that were also great by any standards.

However excited and fascinated people were about this product, there were still some doubts raised about it’s commercially viability. One criticism was that in light of mobile money products that allow people to buy airtime at anytime from anywhere, the airtime vending machine may just be a thing for the past.

The Protonics airtime vending machine "busy" processing a transaction.
The Protonics airtime vending machine “busy” processing a transaction.


George’s response to this was simple. As long as we continue to see airtime vendors, there will always be space for his products.

This definitely makes sense and maybe the impact of mobile money on airtime vending is overstated. Mobile money services like EcoCash are continually coming up with promotions to encourage airtime purchases through the platform which may suggest that airtime sales through this channel may not be as widespread compared to vending.

In spite of the looks (which is merely a result of zero resources), George is one innovator that has to be celebrated and supported. After dropping out of HIT because of financial challenges, George has dedicated 9 months to building an airtime vending machine literally from the ground up and hopefully soon we wont be speculation what he could achieve with enough resources at his disposal.

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40 thoughts on “HIT dropout builds functional airtime vending machine prototype from scrap

      1. This “import-everything” attitude maybe an easy way out solution. Unfortunately it gets us nowhere as a developing nation because it discourages local technical skill development; promotes brain drain; further building a nation of dealers which is a major drain on the bleeding economy and is unsustainable. After all the Chinese spent decades buying products from the west then copying and modifying them. The above prototype is an innovation that must be encouraged not chided.

      2. I don’t think that’s the point. I build hardware which at most are commercially available as ready made products its process of understanding how to do and create the products that needs reward not the product itself.

        He re-purposed components that could at a point have had to be throw away into the environment. He sure learnt more through the process than making the product, that’s whats important.

        Sure anyone could buy vending machines or build a better product, that’s not the point too. Just the fact that he built a product to me is awesome coz I would have done so and have lived fulfilled. Juc that is worth a round of free Kudos.

  1. ndivo vanhu vacho ava, great stuff. would be good if he can get funding to make the protonic, way to go , very proud to be called a zimbo because of this article

  2. Beautiful!! Ohhhh, just beautiful…a thousand miles journey could’ve started, and this was the first step…

  3. I think the real value in his system would be the abilty to buy econet airtime using Telecash or OneWallet. Kudos for a job welldone

  4. Not wise to show your prototype. Now someone with cash will simply make this machine

  5. Nice product l am not sure how safe his idea is if it does not take off this year

    1. as he said, i think as long as people visit shops to buy airtime or buy airtime from airtime vendors this concept will work. he can have partnerships with stores so that they use his vending machine to sell airtime. now he just needs a raspberry pi to simplify his circuitry

  6. How is this different to an atm or pos terminal? please explain techzim it isn’t clear from the article? Except for the fact it doesn’t have a money receiving solution atm.

  7. Nice……………. Although the picture of him you put up is kinda funny.
    Anyway we geeks are all the same .lol

  8. vanhu vepa HIT chete vari kungonyora apa ndaona nesando dzacho. Otherwise he did a gret job but given the technological advancement he will have to work hard to produce game changers not just a Zim version of an already existing product.

  9. Very good guess we have our own steve jobs. These are the people who should be given scholarships. kudos

  10. My friend, patent your idea before someone steals it from you. And if someone is to approach you to commercialize it, get good legal representation. Otherwise, I salute your innovation. Way to go!

  11. as good as it is am not in favour of this innovation. the airtime business has employed many disabled people with this machine they wil go back to poverty. i vote no to its roll out!!

  12. MNO should support these products/project. Airport around the world have these vending machines, lets support our local products.

  13. Ko nhai vanhu, i have this idea. If i establish a start-up that gets demo Smartphones from US and Europe, repair them and sell them in Africa via Mukuru, Western Union, Ecocash or Moneygram. Imagine how many millions of iPhones 1,2,3,4 or Samsung S2 and 3 are just laying unused in homes across Europe? Imagine Blackberries?

    Not that i have nothing else to do with my life, but tell me if this makes sense

        1. It’s still a stupid idea, you post a silly proposal on a public forum seeking approval and when it’s turned down you get emotional. You are an idiot, your father was an idiot and your children will probably be idiots

          1. I think i know for sure who is writing this and guess what, i am not petty like you! See i do not hide my identity, because i stand by what i do, write and say.

            If swearing at my father and all other people you have never met makes you feel good, so be it! feel good and and boost your self esteem via Disqus.

            Anyone who gets emotional over trolls, will always keep losing in life. Not me.

  14. @Tendai Joe don`t have a look east policy mentality, be innovative and smart. Do your own things.

    1. Imagine how many cars could be made in Africa, by Africa and be sold in Africa? One thing that stops many of such innovative ideas from growing, is patents.

      Is it very easy to build a prototype of a phone and have it ready for the market within 3 months, but the R&D cost, plus functionalities will be limited as you try not to be caught on the wrong side of the Patent War dogs.

      Thing is, if you look at Vodacom and MTN is SA, they have millions of handsets in their warehouses, that are trade-ins. Those might never be used again, because that would throttle the market for new devices.

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