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India's attempt at indigenous home computer: Simputer released in 2002

Discussion in 'General History' started by InfoWarrior, Sep 29, 2017.

  1. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior BANNED BANNED

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    M D Riti in Bangalore

    For sheer versatility, the thingamajig is streets ahead of other gizmos. It's simple, it's portable. At about Rs 9,000 per piece, it's highly affordable. One need not know English to be able to operate it. The farmer and the techie can use it alike. It is compatible with your everyday PC, helps you check e-mail, browse the Net, keep accounts, and get information.

    [​IMG]
    It's not a fantasy. It's the Simputer. And it's here.

    Visualise a farmer in rural Karnataka or in a village in Uttar Pradesh. He has a small portable computer in his hand, with which he listens to a radio broadcast that tells him what the weather should be like over the next two days, and also what crops it might be suitable for.

    He makes a quick decision, calls up his bank, and arranges for some funds to buy seeds and fertiliser he needs. Then, still using his small, hand-held device, he dials up a Net connection, and looks up some handy tips on how to grow that particular crop.

    Suggest this possibility to Shankare Gowda in a village in Mandya or Birju Yadav in Bihar, and they will probably find it difficult to stop laughing.

    To the rural Indian poor, and even to most city dwellers, a computer is probably as remote an option as a trip to the moon. But things are about to change.

    The brains behind the concept

    [​IMG]
    A small group of scientists of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and some engineering professionals from the firm Encore Software have designed this simple device, and set up a trust to take it to the world.

    This device, called a Simputer, will be launched formally on April 25 in Bangalore.

    This gadget is not a PC. It is a simplified device more like a pocket computer. What distinguishes it from other hand-held devices is its smart card reader.

    Besides, it also has an Information Markup Language that is, amongst other thing, smart card aware. It will also have the use of extensive audio in the form of text-to-speech and audio snippets.

    An important feature of the Simputer is the SmartCard Reader/Writer. The smart card is emerging as a credible delivery vehicle for financial transactions on the Internet and has become an important tool for electronic commerce.

    The incorporation of a smart card reader/writer in the Simputer will, therefore, increase the functionality of the mobile device for deployment of a richer set of value-added services, including services such as home banking through personal ATMs and home shopping.

    The Simputer is aimed to be a shared computing device for a local community of users -- such as the village panchayat or the village school or a kiosk or a shopkeeper. Thus, it should be personalised for individual use on a changing basis. The smart card is again the basic method by which this device can be personalised.

    A user's individual profile can be stored on a smart card, which he can carry around with him. Once inserted into the smart card interface, the Simputer will read the profile from the smart card and also update changes if any, during the current transaction cycle.

    An idea germinates

    The Simputer project was conceived during the organisation of an international seminar on information technology for developing countries, conducted during Bangalore IT.com, Karnataka's annual IT trade show, in October 1998.

    A discussion paper highlights the need for a low-cost mass access device that will bring local-language IT to the masses. The initial discussions introduced the term Simputer as an obvious twist on the word computer.

    For the purpose of establishing originality, a slightly more complex acronym was invented to fit the name Simputer: simple, inexpensive, multi-lingual computer.

    And finally in order to appeal to computer geeks, a more complex expansion was also coined, namely simple, inexpensive multi-lingual people's computer.

    Just what is a Simputer?

    What exactly is the Simputer? Put quite simply, it is more complex and powerful than a palm top.

    For example, in terms of screen size (320x240), memory capabilities (32MB RAM) and the OS (GNU/Linux). It runs on an Intel strong-arm chip. The chip is known for its low power consumption.

    The Simputer runs on three AAA batteries or off the mains. It can also use rechargeable batteries, but the charger is not built in.

    Thus, the Simputer is basically a low-cost computer with multiple connectivity options. It will be modular and based entirely on free software from the Open Source Initiative. Its primary input will be a touch-sensitive overlay on the LCD display panel.

    The primary application interface would be a browser that can render the Information Markup Language. IML is a new XML application being designed specifically for handheld devices like the Simputer. The use of XML-based language is in line with the philosophy of utilising global Internet standards.

    Speech recognition soon, too

    A subsequent version of the Simputer may also use speech recognition for basic navigation through the software menus.

    The Speech Dictionary can be easily customized for different Indian languages. A text-to-speech system will also be developed at a later stage.

    Quite simply, the Simputer is not a personal computer in the conventional 'PC' sense. The 'Wintel' architecture of the de facto standard PC is quite unsuitable for deployment in the low-cost mass market in any developing country. The entry barrier due to software licensing is just too high.

    While the Wintel PC provides a de facto level of standardisation, it is not an open architecture.

    The Simputer, on the other hand, will be based on software technology that is open and modular.

    The Open Source Initiative is a global software initiative that aims to develop leading-edge technology through a collaborative approach whereby all of the technology is freely available to anybody.

    Multiple benefits

    [​IMG]
    "This provides us several benefits. We benefit from the experience of the vast global pool of experts working on software problems. We also have access to the entire source code, which enables us to deploy the software on any hardware platform that might be cost-effective for us at a certain point in time. It will also have the benefit of peer review processes that ensure a relatively robust and stable end product," says Swami Manohar, an associate professor in the department of computer science and automation of IISc, and one of the seven trustees.

    The initial version of the Simputer is based on a StrongARM CPU. The StrongARM is a Reduced Instruction-set microprocessor, which is designed for embedded applications. Several vendors provide ARM based chips with a high level of integration and high performance at a relatively low level of power consumption.

    "Our aim is to make Simputer a low cost alternative device to PCs, by which IT can reach the common man," said Manohar. "That's why it features touch screen and local language software interface."

    Four trustees are from IISc and the remaining three from Encore. Vinay Deshpande, the founder CEO and MD of Encore, is the managing trustee of the Simputer Trust.

    All that the trust is going to do on April 25 is to display about 10 Simputers and hold several demonstrations of them, at the JRD Tata Auditorium, National Institute for Advanced Studies, IISc, Bangalore. This is to indicate that the Simputer platform is ready for the next stage, namely, commercial manufacture and deployment.

    In other words, Simputers will not be available in your neigbourhood computer store on April 26. Private companies will have to come forward to take the licenses for manufacturing Simputers.

    The trust has liberally borrowed its philosophy from the concept of "free software" propounded by a worldwide group of software developers who have created a new paradigm for the development and deployment of such popular software as Linux and also benefited from pioneering work done by the Free Software Foundation.

    The trust will still retain ownership over the basic platform so that it can continue to guide its development based on the philosophy of the Trust.

    "The system software of the Simputer, since it is Linux based is under GPL," say the trustees.

    "We have been working on a license similar to the GPL, but applicable to hardware. We realised, after considerable discussions, that hardware has significant differences that precludes the possibility of using a simple extension of the software GPL."

    "We now have the first draft of the Simputer General Public License that we believe to be a practicable license which at the same time facilitates the rapid spread of Simputers."

    "We invite comments from interested manufacturers and others on the SGP, which was drafted by Rahul Matthan, the legal counsel of the Simputer Trust."

    The trust estimates that it will then take a company at least three months to start manufacturing these devices for general use.

    May cost as little as Rs 9,000

    The cost per piece cannot be exactly estimated now. The designers believe that when the volume of production touches 50,000 pieces, the cost should come down to Rs 9,000 per piece. Until then, it is will be much higher.

    Actually, four beta Simputers have been doing demonstration rounds already. Now, new boxes have been made with improved tooling.

    "The initial Simputer model will have a rudimentary Kannada front-end interface," say the trustees. " We expect that the demonstration vehicle will result in large-scale deployment through governmental and non-governmental agencies throughout the country. Costs will automatically fall as volumes pick up."

    Can you attach a keyboard to this device, and enter text? There are two options on the base Simputer for entering text: one is a soft keyboard, that can be brought up on the touch screen and you poke at it to enter one character at a time.

    The second option is to use a novel character entry software called tap-a-tap which is similar in spirit to graffiti, but quite distinct.

    If you need to enter a lot of text using the Simputer, you may be able to attach a USB keyboard, but the Simputer is definitely not intended to be a cheap, mass data-entry device.

    This device will have a simple to use browser for accessing the Internet through one of several connectivity options. Since it has a built-in modem, the modem provides the primary interface to an ISP.

    In fact, it might be a good idea to tie up with ISPs to bundle several hours of access in the basic package.

    Ease of use

    Ease of use has to be an important guiding principle if this device is to gain a substantial measure of popularity. A low-cost version of this device may be targeted to the home user, whereas a slightly higher functionality version can be designed for use in cyber kiosks where people can come in and surf at their convenience.

    The Simputer can also be used in schools to allow them to offer Web access to students at relatively low-cost. It can also leverage the pervasiveness of telephone lines and enable users to enjoy a new level of services from their net service providers.

    This could be in areas as diverse as Web-enabled email access, home banking, home shopping, educational services and new forms of entertainment.

    Micheal L Best, research scientists at MIT's famous Media Lab, told rediff.com some time ago that his centre was working on developing a similar device which should cost $50 apiece.

    So the Simputer is certainly not a unique project globally, although it is certainly new and special to India.

    Best felt that even that was too high a cost for the target user of such a device, which is basically a poor, rural farmer.

    But will it be made in huge volumes to make it cheaper?

    The Simputer, in US dollars, should work out to not less than $200. The real test now will be to see whether enough companies find it viable to come forward, take licenses and attempt to manufacture. The even bigger question will be whether they will soon be made in sufficiently large volumes to make them truly cost-effective.

    http://www.rediff.com/money/2001/apr/24spec.htm
     
  2. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior BANNED BANNED

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    Why did the Simputer flop?
    ET Bureau|
    Updated: Jul 23, 2015, 02.45 AM IST
    Back in 2004, V Vinay had a gleam in his eyes when he demonstrated the accelerometer in the Amida Simputer. Vinay had left the IISc with three colleagues and created the handheld device as a low-cost computing device for rural India. The accelerometer gave it the ability to flick the hand and move pages, zoom, or invert the screen. This feature was not seen in any hand-held device up until then. The feature became common after the iPhone was launched. The Amida, developed by PicoPeta Simputers, ..

    Read more at:
    http://economictimes.indiatimes.com...ofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
     
  3. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior BANNED BANNED

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    New Simputer for less than Rs 10,000
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    Last updated on: March 27, 2004 07:30 IST
    Bharat Electronics Limited and PicoPeta Simputers has unveiled the new innovations-packed, much-awaited Amida Simputer, including one with a price tag of below Rs 10,000, in Bangalore.

    The product -- to be promoted as a global brand -- is ready for the market 18 months after BEL and PicoPeta signed an agreement to jointly produce and market the Simputer platform, developed by technology company PicoPeta.

    "It has been a long wait. But I am sure, and everyone will agree, after experiencing the product, that Amida Simputer is worth the wait," Y Gopal Rao, chairman and managing director, BEL, said.

    Stating that BEL was committed to the success of this innovative product, he said the company would bring its quality manufacturing expertise and technical support experience to Amida Simputer.

    Several innovations are packed in the Amida Simputer, he said.

    Handwriting (in any language) and decoding on every screen, mailing the scribbles with a single tap, gesture technologies that allow changing a page or zooming of an image by a hand gesture are some examples, BEL officials said.

    Several versions of the Amida Simputer are on offer to cater to a broad spectrum of people, including the much-awaited under Rs 10,000 Simputer, BEL said.

    PicoPeta chairman Prof. Vinay said: "Amida allows people to share information, stay connected and bond emotionally. It does these by breaking the fear of technology."

    Amida Simputer would be available through the Web site www.amidasimputer.com and in showrooms that would be opened in Bangalore next month, he said.

    "We have taken the first steps of an Indian product company building a global brand," he added.

    PicoPeta CEO Prof. Swami Manohar said: "Marketing and sales challenges which will define the success of Amida Simputer are ahead of us. We have innovative and flexible strategies to seize the market."
    http://www.rediff.com/money/2004/mar/27simputer.htm
     
  4. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior BANNED BANNED

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    Hardware
    - CPU 32-bit Strong Arm SA-1100 RISC CPU running at 200MHz
    - 32 MB of DRAM
    - 24 MB Flash for Permanent Storage (DOC)
    - Display I/F 320x240 Monochrome LCD Display Panel
    Interfaces
    - Touch-panel Overlay on LCD Display used with a plastic stylus (Pen)
    - Speaker and MIC Jacks Smartcard Connector
    - RJ-11 Telephone Jack
    - USB Connector
    Dimensions
    - Approximately 8cm x 13 cm x 2 cm
    - Power Supply 3 AAA-sized NiMh batteries
    System Software
    - Operating System: GNU/Linux
    - Soft-Modem Algorithms V.34/V.17 Data/Fax Modem Technology
    - Perl/Tk scripting environment
    Application Software
    - imli: an IML browser
    - Tapatap: Input method
    - Internet access (Browser, Email, etc.)
    - Dhvani: Text-to-Speech Software
    - MP3 Player
    http://www.simputer.org/simputer/spec/simpspec/
     
  5. Guynextdoor

    Guynextdoor Lt. Colonel SENIOR MEMBER

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    whatever happened to the cheap 'tablet' India had launched. Reviews were BS.
     
  6. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior BANNED BANNED

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    Instead of Reaching the Sky, Aakash Ends Up Six Feet Below

    By Vasudevan Mukunth on 15/07/2015Leave a Comment
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    Once at the centre of the Indian government’s half-baked schemes to make classrooms tech-savvy, the Aakash project wound down quietly in March 2015, an RTI has revealed. The project envisaged lakhs of school and engineering students armed with a tablet each, sold at Rs.1,130 courtesy the government, from which they partake of their lessons, access digitised textbooks and visualise complicated diagrams. Lofty as these goals were, the project was backed by little public infrastructure and much less coordination, resulting in almost no traction despite being punctuated regularly with PR ops.

    The project was conceived in 2011 by the UPA-2 government to parallel the One Laptop Per Child program, forgetting conveniently that the latter worked only in small Uruguay and for unique reasons. Anyway, a British-Canadian company named DataWind was contracted to manufacture the tablets, which the government would then purchase for Rs.2,263 and subsidise so as to retail them at Rs.1,130.

    However, the second version, whose development was led by IIT-Bombay and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, released in November 2012 bordered on the gimmicky. It had 512 MB RAM, a 7” screen, a 1 GHz processor and, worst of all, a battery that lasted all of three hours even as a full day at school typically spanned seven. Even so, the government announced that 50 lakh such tablets would be manufactured and that 1 lakh teachers would be trained to use it. In March 2013, then Union HRD Minister Pallam Raju called it the government’s “dream project”.

    But what really crippled the program was not the operational delays or logistical failures but the Central government’s lackadaisical assumption that placing a tablet in a student’s hands would solve everything. For example, it was advertised that Aakash would be a load off children’s backs, eliminating the need to lug around boatloads of books. However, the NCERT didn’t bother to explain which textbooks would be digitised first – or at all – and when they’d be available. Similarly, the low-income households whose younger occupants the tablets targeted didn’t have access to regular electricity let alone an Internet connection. What the tablets would ultimately do was become, for those who couldn’t afford to maintain and use them, a burden.

    The Aakash train on the other hand was on rails of its own. By November 2011, DataWind had shipped 6,440 devices but only 650 were found good enough to sell. Nonetheless, in January 2013, IIT-Bombay announced it was starting work on Aakash 3, and by July the same year had skipped to working on the fourth iteration. Then, in September 2013, the CAG alleged that IIT-Rajasthan, which had handled the Aakash project in 2011, had been awarded the project arbitrarily, received Rs.47.42 crore without any prior feasibility checks, and overran its budget by Rs.1.05 crore. However, this did nothing to slow things down.

    The biggest beneficiary was DataWind, the air in its bellows blown by the Central government’s fantasy of arming itself with the same cargo that Western institutions sported. Between December 2013 and July 2014, the company was able to announce three new models in the Rs.4,000-7,000 price range, introduce one for the UK priced at ₤30, raised Rs.168 crore in an IPO, listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and got on the MIT Tech Review’s 50 smartest tech companies of 2014 list for breaking “the price barrier”.

    The RTI application that revealed Aakash had been wound down also received the reply that the project had achieved all its objectives: of procuring one lakh devices, testing them and establishing 300 centres in engineering colleges – speaking nothing of the more ostentatious goal of linking 58.6 lakh students across 25,000 colleges and 400 universities through an ‘e-learning’ program. The reply also stated that specifications for a future device had been submitted to the MHRD. Whether the project will be revived by the ruling BJP government later is unknown.

    And on that forgettable note of uncertainty, one of the more misguided digital-India schemes comes to a close.
    https://thewire.in/6473/instead-of-reaching-the-sky-aakash-ends-up-six-feet-below/
     

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