Mathare is 500,000-resident slum in Nairobi Kenya, where basic sanitation is non-existent, there’s no adequate water supply and no school system, except for so-called street schools that try to fill that gap. Only 10 percent of local youth will reach college education. Most of the locals are part of the five billion people in the world who are digitally excluded. Now, a new UK-based initiative called Keepod Unite aims to reduce the digital gap in Mathare by providing an OS that can be loaded onto a USB drive and plugged into just about any shared PC.

The team behind Keepod says it is the first standardized version of a bootable OS, which means the software is separated from the hardware. This makes computing more affordable because the USB drive can be used with any old machine. Keepod is claimed an improvement on previous, and similar, "LiveUSB" systems such as LinuxLive and WinToGo, which were more limited to providing a system preview for system testing and the installation of backup solutions.

Keepod, on the other hand, is a primary system which was developed to increase security, performance, file system reliability, and other features to make it a reliable portable computing experience. It is based on Linux and comes with a range of pre-installed apps such as web browsers, social network apps, the LibreOffice productivity suite, the VLC media player, FileZilla FTP, Steam, and several others.

The USB drive onto which Keepod is loaded would need to have at least 8 GB of available storage space. The host computer system needs to meet some basic requirements, too, including an x86 processor, 1 GB RAM, 1024 x 768 resolution display, USB 2.0 port or higher. Keepod does not officially support Mac machines.

The rationale behind developing a bootable OS instead of distributing PCs to those in need is that, according to the Keepod team, such attempts have so far not made a great difference on the ground. The system developers believe there is no need for individual PCs for personal computing, only an individual external drive with data that will be protected, and which will leave no footprint on the host computer.

From an economic point of view, it’s cheaper and easier to replace a lost USB drive than a PC, and is more suitable for places where damage is more likely to take place. The system can run on older PCs too, such as refurbished computers that otherwise would have ended up in landfills. In cases where data has not been backed up on a cloud server, the Keepod USB won't be accessible to whoever finds the drive.

Driving the technology is a socially responsible effort to help projects dealing with a wide range of pressing issues in Africa, such as HIV, education, agriculture and human rights. As part of the plan, the Keepod team intends to build local hubs to operate inside the slums where locals will access Keepod devices, public computers and connectivity services. They will train a local person to manage the hubs, which will also be spaces where people can learn about new technologies and incubate local start-ups.

The development team's ambition goes beyond the Mathare project, which is being carried out in partnership with an NGO called LiveInSlums. It is a first step towards the consolidation of Keepod Unite, which will be taken to other grassroots initiatives around the world in the wake of a successful pilot run in Mathare.

The Keepod team has launched on crowdfunding portal Indigogo to raise funds for the project. Supporters can pledge as little as US$1, but the $40 reward level offers a limited edition of the Keepod T-shirt. Funds will only be made available to the project if the campaign, which ends on March 1, reaches its $38,000 target.

The video below gives other details of the project and its goals.

Sources: Keepod, Indiegogo