The ‘nano’ Computer

Story bubbles on world map
Source: Ashoka

The Indian Minister of Human Resource and Development, Mr. Kapil Sibal, released a $35 (Rs. 1500) tablet computer last week. The touch screen device has been designed and developed by experts from Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. The device was conceived 5 years ago as a response to XO, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation’s laptop, which is currently priced at $199. Is it another feather in the cap of the Indian innovators, who earlier produced a $2,200 car and $16 water purifier?

The device based on the Linux platform comes with a number of applications such as video conferencing application, a multimedia content viewer, Open Office suite and media player. It also sports a USB drive. Keeping in mind the infrastructure challenges of developing countries, a solar panel has been included in the device. The price of $35 includes the cost of manufacturing the device abroad. The cost of the solar panel has, however, not been factored. The government has already decided to provide a discount of 50% to educational institutes, which will make the device as affordable as a basic mobile handset at $18.

"The aim is to reach such devices to the students of colleges and universities, and to provide these institutions a host of choices of low-cost access devices around Rs 1,500 or less in near future," said the minister at the unveiling ceremony. The device is expected to be available to students in 2011. The specifications of the device have not yet been disclosed. The utility of the device and its developmental benefits will ultimately depend on how well this device is integrated into the education system.

The OLPC program which championed a similar cause has been criticized on many grounds- no sharing policy, no seamless integration with the existing education system, creating resource imbalances and also for its top-down design. The people behind the Indian initiative can learn many lessons from OLPC. Opening up the platform and encouraging the technology community in India to improvise and build better devices and applications will help the cause in a big way.