Aug. 7, 2008 — -- As the prices of educational laptops for children in developing countries creep upward, a group of researchers attempts to create a new, even lower-tech computer that would cost as little as $12.
While wandering the streets of Bangalore, India, in February during an internship for Qualcomm, 27-year-old graduate student Derek Lomas stumbled across a contraption that looked quite similar to the original Nintendo console that he played video games on as a kid in the 1980s.
Variations on that original console sell in India for anywhere between $10 and $20 and plug into your TV, complete with game controllers and a computer keyboard. The consoles eventually expanded their game repertoire beyond "Duck Hunt" rip-offs to very basic word processing software.
After tooling around with the gadget, Lomas had an idea.
"I started thinking about how to make a project that would redesign some of the content and experience so it was more effective in teaching basic skills," he said.
Lomas, along with designers and engineers from Ghana, Brazil, Peru and India, presented the idea this week at MIT's International Development Design Summit, which challenges designers to create technology in four weeks that can help people in developing countries.
At the conference, the group presented the same console, but with modifications -- such as flash memory -- so users could save their work, and wireless connectivity, as well as development plans for more educational software. For now, the computer is just a proposal, but according to Lomas, companies have already expressed interest.
He hopes that in a country like India, where half the population owns televisions, a device like this could introduce a whole new segment of the population to computers and potentially, a better life.