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iSlate: A ‘Pad’ for Indian kids

It may still be difficult to find an iPad in Mumbai, but scientists from Singapore are working on a low-cost power stingy tablet for children in rural India that can be charged using solar energy. Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Rice University are developing an electronic notepad that consumes very little energy. This device, called I-slate may soon allow some of the estimated 100 million Indian children who attend schools without electricity to have access to an electronic notepad.

"India's full economic potential will only be realised with sustainable, low-cost technologies that benefit all segments of the population," said Krishna Palem, of Rice University who is leading the effort to replace the hand-held slates that millions of children use in schools today.

I-Slate , Palem's brainchild, is in development at Institute of Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics (ISAID) which is based at NTU. The first prototypes of the I-slate , which were built by a team that included three Rice undergraduates, are set to undergo their second round of tests in India later this month.

Palem, who directs ISAID, said the device is the first of a series of electronic notepads being built around a new class of green, power-stingy microchips that use a fraction of the electricity of today's processors.

The chips are under development in partnership between ISAID and Switzerland's Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology, the chips will make it possible for the I-slate to run on solar power from panels similar to those used in hand-held calculators. The I-slate began to take shape over the summer, and early prototypes were introduced in tests at a school near Hyderabad in early August.

A nonprofit based in Hyderabad, ViDAL is partnering with ISAID to test the first I-slates in Mohd Hussainpalli village, some 110 kilometres southwest of Hyderabad in a drought-prone area. "Children in village schools are just like their peers anywhere in the world: eager to learn, tech savvy, and willing to try new educational tools that engage their creative minds," said Rajeswari Pingali, ViDAL president. "The I-slate can help bring the marvels of technology into thousands of rural schools and contribute to an improved learning experience."

Rice undergraduates Lauren Pemberton and Shelby Reinhardt spent 10 weeks writing a self-directed mathematics teaching application for the first I-slate prototypes. In early August, they accompanied Pingali and Vincent Mooney, ISAID's chief I-slate hardware architect, to see how a class of 10- to 13-year-olds liked the new device.

"Most of these students have never used a computer or seen a video game, so we really didn't know how they'd react to the I-slate ," said Reinhardt.

"They immediately picked up on the technology," said Pemberton. "They clearly didn't like some of the things we expected to work really well, like the button placement, but they loved the scratch-pad application which was added at the last minute."

"The kids were articulate about their opinions even pointing out that the size of the stylus was too thin but wrote thick on the screen. Instead the children recommended a thicker stylus with thinner on screen writing," said Pingali.

"Developing an electronic notepad that is green, requires very little energy to operate and that could even run on solar energy in future is in line with NTU's emphasis on sustain ability research," said NTU President Su Guaning.

"The research will not just help in the sustainability of our planet but the development of such sustainable, low-cost technologies will also help the poorer communities in the world to close the digital divide. It will be life-changing and it will help to improve lives."

Read more: iSlate: A ‘Pad’ for Indian kids - The Times of India

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