The Simputer, or the common man’s computer, has been deployed in the underdeveloped areas of Chhattishgarh state after its quiet rollout from the state-owned Bharat Electronics.
The Simputer, a most promising invention of the last century by four professors of the city-based prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and three technologists from Encore Software, is on its first field trials for an education project in the Bastar area of the predominantly tribal state.
The Bastar education project, promoted by Rainbow Partnership Organisation (RPO), a subsidiary of the South Asia Foundation, is a pilot in which World Space Radio is collaborating with PicoPeta Simputers. It covers 2,000 students who could “enhance their knowledge base” by using the smart card.
As Bharat Electronics delivers the first order of 150 Simputers in the next couple of weeks to PicoPeta, the hand-held devices – slightly bigger than a palmtop but as powerful as a computer – would be deployed in 95 villages chosen by the state government.
“We are trying out the first six devices in areas which do not have even a telephone. Some educational materials will be downloaded from the World Space Radio on to the Simputers. About one fifth of the 500 pages of content would be available on the Simputers in the next couple of weeks,” Chandru said.
The content, which is in the form of Information Markup Language (IML) pages, is uploaded to the satellite and broadcast through World Space Radio receivers. Both the radio receivers and the Simputers are battery operated, making them operational even in the most difficult of terrains.
The Linux-based device can operate in multiple languages, play MP3 files and can be used for e-mail as well as Internet surfing through a browser for the IML. Its text-to-speech capability can be utilised by the entire community through its smart card feature that allows for personal information management at the individual level. When produced on a large scale, the Simputer would cost less than $200 or Rs.9,000.
“The content includes information on health that is provided by the government right now. Later, it would include an e-governance programme that would have a grievances section. Over a period of time, it will be completely customer driven,” Chandru added.
The field trials will test the Simputer for basic technology, whether the interface is as intuitive as it was in the laboratory as well as the text-to-speech capability. From the time it was launched in April last, “the electronics has been improved, the modem has been fully stabilised, the battery pack re-engineered and made more powerful”.
For the time being, the Chhattishgarh project would be extended to other areas proposals for which have been received by PicoPeta Simputers. These include an e-governance project in Karnataka, a poverty alleviation project in Andhra Pradesh and a micro credit project in Tamil Nadu. This is apart from a micro credit project with a voluntary organisation in Karnataka.
This would be followed by a project sanctioned by the federal information technology ministry for field trials of 200 units in the IISc. It would be later tried in countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
The Simputer was developed after a discussion on the digital divide at the BangaloreIT.com 1998, Asia’s biggest IT show organised by the Karnataka government and the National Association of Software and Service Companies. The other license holder for the Simputer, Encore Software, is testing some units in Singapore where it has a marketing arrangement with a local company. It plans to roll out about 500 Simputers next month at its sister company, Peninsula.
The Simputer Trust consists of the seven inventors: Swami Manohar, V. Vinay, Ramesh Hariharan and Chandru, all from the IISc, Vinay Deshpande, Shashank Garg and Mark Mathias of Encore Software and Rahul Matthan of Trilegal.