When you search for just about anything on the Internet, it seems like a Wikipedia entry on that subject is almost always amongst the top ten hits. Despite rumors of dissent within its ranks, the encyclopedic website is one of the largest single repositories of knowledge in the world. So, with that in mind, what do you do if you want to bring a significant portion of the information on the Internet to people who can’t afford net access? You load a searchable offline version of Wikipedia onto a US$20 8-bit computer, that they can watch through their TVs. That’s what computer consultant Braddock Gaskill has done with his Humane Reader, which he hopes will find a place in homes, schools and libraries in developing nations.
The Humane Reader can reportedly hold the equivalent of 5,000 books, and doesn’t require Internet access or a separate computer. It does require a television, which are far more common than Internet connections in the developing world – where, according to Gaskill’s research, only 20 percent of the population has web access. It stores its data on a reloadable SD memory card, which he claims can contain most, if not all of Wikipedia, in a variety of languages. It can be used with a keyboard, although it doesn’t require one.
If produced in quantities of at least 10,000, the Humane Reader will sell for US$20. Gaskill hopes to sell it to non-government organizations, educators, non-profits or other aid agencies.
This isn’t the first time Wikipedia has been made available on a stand-alone computer. The WikiReader is an existing product that does the same thing, and includes its own LCD screen. At $US99, however, it’s not as charity-friendly.
Braddock also offers a slightly fancier, slightly more expensive device called the Humane PC. It’s intended more for those with a little computer knowledge, who want a simple, inexpensive computer that they can tweak to their heart’s content. It displays via a TV, and accepts any PS/2 keyboard. While it’s the same basic machine as the Humane Reader, it sports a few extra features, including a USB microcontroller, an infrared transmitter/receiver, and even an optional aluminum case with powder coat finish.