Graduate Students Develop a $12 Computer

Forget the quest to build the $100 computer; a group of graduate students think they can create the $12 computer--the perfect PC for developing countries. And no, this is not the $10 computer than India announced last week--which turned out to actually be a $100 computer. But India does play an important role in this story...

Graduate student, Derek Lomas who lives in India, noticed inexpensive "TV Computers" being sold in India for 500 rupees (less than $12 based on today's exchange rates). Lomas was intrigued by the low price and wide availability of the TV Computers, but was skeptical as to their usefulness. Lomas finally bought one and this is his impression, which he reported on his blog earlier this year:

"I never thought they would actually work, because they are so unbelievably cheap--rs500 or $12.50, and they come with a keyboard, mouse, light gun, two game controllers, and two game cartridges.

But guess what? It works! And I'm amazed at the capability. There is a word processor, a music composer, typing training, even a BASIC programming shell!

I like that it plugs into the TV, because it makes 'computing' fundamentally more social (even family oriented) than a laptop or even PC. And since nearly half of all Indian households have a television, there is a great potentially market. The funny thing is that a lot of the Srishti Design students who saw me playing with this used to have one themselves, several years ago. Back then, this cost nearly rs3000 ($75)."

 Credit: Derek Lomas
It turns out that the TV Computers are based on the Apple II computer! (The Boston Herald article did not specify which generation of the Apple II, but based on the photos from Lomas's Picasa Web Album, we suspect it is the Apple IIGS or the Apple IIc Plus.)

Lomas was inspired by the TV Computers and started to think that they might make an excellent design choice for an ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) platform for developing countries. Lomas assembled a group of international students to work on the challenge and find ways to "soup up the systems." They all met up at the MIT International Development Design Summit recently, which is currently taking place at MIT, to work on the platform's development.

"A six-member team at the MIT conference is working on writing improved programs and hooking the devices to the Web through cell phones. The group also wants to add memory chips - which the devices currently lack - to allow users to write and store their own programs.

Team members have already recruited Apple II enthusiasts to help with the programming."

The plan is to find programmers willing to develop applications for the computers and to set them up in computer labs in schools in Third World nations. Basing their model on twenty-year-old (or older) technology is an innovative approach and very different than many of the other current approaches looking to bring computers to the third world, which are either developing new technologies or at least utilizing far more recent platforms. 
Tags:  computer, Students, dev, COM, Elop