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I thought this might interest Computer Bank people. This if from Bytes for All - a site dedicated to promoting community development through technology in the developing world
SIMPUTER : A break through in Computer Technology by Indian scientists to help non-literate users to surf the Net
SIMPUTER -- SUB-$200 INTERNET DEVICE to help non-literate users:
In an effort to bring the Internet to the masses in India and other
developing countries, several academics and engineers have used their spare time to design a sub-$200 handheld Net appliance, writes Bangalore-based John Ribeiro of IDG News Service (June 23).
The Simputer, or SIMple ComPUTER, will enable India's illiterate
population (some 48% of the country of one billion) to surf the
Web. The device was designed by professors and students at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) at Bangalore, and engineers from Bangalore-based design company Encore Software. A prototype of the appliance will be available in August.
The Simputer is built around Intel's StrongARM CPU, with Linux
as the operating system. It will have 16 MB of flash memory, a monochrome liquid crystal display (LCD) with a touch panel overlay for pen-based computing, and a local-language interface. The appliance will have Infrared Data Association and Universal Serial Bus interfaces, and will feature Internet access and mail software.
Its designers expect the Simputer to be used not only as a personal Internet access device, but also by communities of users at kiosks. A smart-card interface to the device will enable the use of the device for applications such as micro-banking.
"We expect to change the model for the proliferation of information technology in India," says Professor Swami Manohar, professor in the computer science and automation department of the IISc. "The current PC-centric model is not sustainable because of the high cost of the PC, and also because we expect that most of the users will not be literate."
A subsequent version of the Simputer will also offer speech recognition for basic navigation through the software menus. The speech dictionary will be customizable to support different languages. A text-to-speech system will also be developed to take
the technology to India's illiterate population. Later versions will
also offer wireless technology.
The intellectual property for the device has been transferred
free to a non-profit trust, called the Simputer Trust, and both the software and the hardware for the appliance have been offered as open source technology. In the open source model of development, users and developers, often unpaid, work together to update technology. Manohar says that the trust decided to put the technology in Open Source to enable third party software developers and designers to add value to the platform. The technology for the product will be licensed to manufacturers at a nominal fee of $1150, which is to be used to finance upgrades to the Simputer. A number of large manufacturers have shown
interest in licensing the technology, though the interest is
currently confined to Indian companies, according to Vinay Deshpande, chairman of Encore and a member of the Simputer Trust.
He says that the designers have been able to achieve the sub-$200 price point since the electronic components used in the device are all off-the-shelf volume components, and the software is primarily open source software such as Linux.
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