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Experimental sub-$50 I-slate tablet proceeding to full-scale production

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October 4, 2011

The I-slate tablet computer, designed for use in impoverished rural schools in developing ...

The I-slate tablet computer, designed for use in impoverished rural schools in developing nations, is about to enter full-scale production
(Photo: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

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Last year, a unique new educational device was tested with a group of school children. The device was the I-slate, an ultra-low-cost tablet computer that is being developed by the Institute for Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics (ISAID), a joint venture of Houston's Rice University and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. The 10 to 13 year-old children were students at a rural school near Hyderabad, India. The tablet is designed for use in such impoverished schools, as each unit is expected to sell for less than US$50, and future models will run on solar power. Now that the field tests are complete and the results have been analyzed, the I-slate is set to go into full production.

The present version of the I-slate is powered by a traditional battery. Thanks to an extremely low-power chip created by project leader Krishna Palem, however, the tablet should ultimately receive all its power from built-in solar cells, much like those currently used by calculators. Such a feature is of vital importance, if the I-slate is to be used in locations where electricity is sporadic at best.

Along with the tablet itself, ISAID has also been developing the educational software that will run on it - because of the relatively low amount of power provided by the solar cells, not just any programs can be used. In the 2010 trials, students' math skills were appraised before and after a period of using a mathematics program, that provided students with feedback and tips regarding wrong answers. According to Palem, the tests confirmed that the I-slate was effective.

I-slate creator Krishna Palem, with his computer (Photo: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Utilizing data from such tests along with direct feedback from the students, lessons for mathematics, science and social studies have been created, and will come preloaded on each tablet. There are also plans for social-networking software, which will allow students to collaborate on writing projects.

A production version of Palem's chip is currently in development, and should be appearing in the first solar-powered I-slates by the middle of 2012. In the meantime, approximately 50 battery-powered I-slates equipped with the new-and-improved software will be heading to India for finessing.

There is no word on when - or if - the I-slate might become available to consumers in First World countries.

The following video provides an overview of the project.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
6 Comments

This is good.... first accessory - keyboard and a plug in 5W or 10W solar cell multi leads and document reader capabilities and a stack of books.

Mr Stiffy
4th October, 2011 @ 05:44 pm PDT

Anybody remember the sub-$100 laptop? If they don't market this in the first world, they'll never get it off the ground. Volume volume volume...did I mention volume? Make em ubiquitous and they'll be cheap enough to give to those who need them. I'll pay $75 for one of these with a basic word processor and document reader. Every two first worlders gives enough profit to present one to a third worlder. Maybe more with the savings inherent in true mass production. Get em below $30 a pop and we're on our way to star trek paperless environments

Bryan Paschke
5th October, 2011 @ 01:35 pm PDT

Make them so cheap they can just be airdropped all over the place, like in the Baen Free Library book "Earthweb". In that book, the "top drop" (short for palmtop airdrop) was used as a recruiting tool to save Earth from a series of alien robot ships entering the solar system every five years.

The idea was to get input and ideas from as many people as possible to figure out ways to stop the alien probes, while also drastically improving literacy and education.

Making e-textbook tablet computers so cheap and ubiquitous should have such an effect, no malevolent alien space probes required. ;)

The ignorance fostered by repressive regimes is enough reason to use this method of getting around them.

Gregg Eshelman
5th October, 2011 @ 08:33 pm PDT

That's nice, but most third world countries don't even have access to electricity. I note that they plan on using solar cells for future editions, but as we all know, it takes forever to recharge via solar, and it would also significantly increase the cost for the device.

Satviewer2000
5th October, 2011 @ 10:55 pm PDT

Satviewer2000 is correct. A quick change battery should come with the unit so one is always available while the other is charging. Similar to what electric cars and bikes are doing with their batteries.

It might be good to combine what Google and others have done with some web sites in offering them in a multilingual format. See the big shot camera building site. Accessing sites similar to the Khan Academy could also help in teaching complicated subjects (like trigonometry) with simplicity. Using the very best and most productive teachers for each grade level is useful, especially when using auxiliary "teaching technicians" for individual help.

Accessing sites like Books should be free, or similar ones might also be advantageous.

The price seems a little on the high side though. Volume worldwide distribution should help lower this, even with the added memory capability mentioned. Are you listening UN? Don't give a man a fish, teach the man to fish.

electric38
7th October, 2011 @ 12:27 am PDT

re; Satviewer2000

I agree. A pull cord, or crank charging system would be better.

Slowburn
7th October, 2011 @ 01:35 am PDT
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