Tablet prototype needs no external power supply

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Indian school-children are testing a solar-powered tablet PC being developed by Rice University and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The device, produced in conjunction with the Villages for Development and Learning Foundation (ViDAL), means that some of the estimated 100 million Indian children who attend schools without electricity could soon have access to advanced PC technology.

"President Obama's visit to India this week highlights Indian economic achievements, but India's full economic potential will only be realized with sustainable, low-cost technologies that benefit all segments of the population," says Rice's Krishna Palem.

Palem says the I-slate is the first of a series of electronic notepads being built around a new class of low-energy-consumption microchips under development with Switzerland's Center for Electronics and Microtechnology. The team says the chips will allow the I-slate to run on solar power from panels similar to those used in hand-held calculators.

Early prototypes were tested at a school near Hyderabad in early August.

"Children in Indian village schools are just like their peers anywhere in the world: eager to learn, tech savvy, and willing to try new pedagogical tools that engage their creative minds," said Rajeswari Pingali, ViDAL president.

Most of the children, aged between ten and 13, had never used a computer or seen a video game before.

"They immediately picked up on the technology," says Rice undergraduate Lauren 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 team now plans to conduct a long-term test at Hussainpalli Government School to track the academic progress of students who use the I-slate.

"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," says NTU President Su Guaning. "It will be life-changing and it will help to improve lives."