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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 18:42 GMT 19:42 UK
Computer deal for India's poor
Simputer's developers
Simputer developers hope to help the illiterate
By Habib Beary in Bangalore

Washington-based WorldSpace is to deliver digital content via satellite to users of the Simputer, a hand-held computer developed in India for the poor and illiterate.

The deal was put together through the Rainbow Partnership Organisation,a non-governmental organisation.

The long-distance education pilot project will get under way soon in the tribal district of Bastar in India's northern Chattisgarh state.

Smart cards will save settings
"The state has a pro-active government which has shown interest in implementing the project for schoolchildren," said Prof. Vijay Chandru, one of the founders of PicoPeta Simputers Ltd.

"As many as 2,000 students will benefit from this programme. These students will receive digital content beamed via satellite from WorldSpace radio broadcasts," Prof Chandru said.

Reading aloud

WorldSpace makes news, music, education and entertainment programmes available to more than two billion people in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Simputer was developed by a team of scientists at the Indian Institute of Science based in the southern city of Bangalore.

Its creators plan to use software that reads webpages aloud in native Indian languages, targeting the 35% of Indians who cannot read.

The team has developed its own version of the web's formatting language to turn text into understandable Hindi, Kannada and Tamil speech.

Depending on the success of the Chattisgarh experiment, the founders of Simputer said similar projects would be undertaken in other countries of South Asia.

Digital Divide

The team expects that although Simputers are relatively cheap, $220, they are designed to be used by lots of people.

A small but powerful package
Everyone who wants access gets a smart card that stores information about their preferences, and customises the e-mail and browsing software on the machine for them.

The Simputer, or Simple, Inexpensive, Multilingual computer runs on the free Linux operating system.

The tie-up with WorldSpace is a major initiative for the company, one of the Institute of Science's first start-ups.

PicoPeta has developed the interface software for receiving WorldSpace broadcasts on the Simputer.

WorldSpace data broadcasting is considered a cost-effective way of making digital content available to a large percentage of the world's population.

Presently, the data is being picked up by receivers mounted on standard personal computers.

"Once the content is downloaded via satellite, the Simputer can be disconnected from the receiver and taken around for use by the target users," said Professor Chandru.


Simputer will be mass-manufactured by license holders.

At least 12 companies including public sector Bharat Electronics Limited, and Indian software major Wipro have shown interest.

The project has drawn considerable interest in other developing countries, particularly China and Malaysia, according to Professor Chandru.

Companies in the developing world will have to pay a one-time fee of $25,000 to a trust run by the founders and those in the developed world will have to shell out ten times more to get a license.

See also:

16 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Wired up for wealth
05 Jul 01 | Education
Study casts doubt on adult illiteracy
12 Jul 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh to get digital exchange
19 Mar 01 | dot life
Bridging the digital divide
13 Jul 01 | UK
New life for old mobiles
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