The Simputer (short for simple inexpensive mobile computer) is an inexpensive, Web-enabled handheld computer designed for use by people in developing countries. The device, which provides mostly image and voice-based interactivity, was developed to overcome two seemingly insurmountable problems in bringing the information age to the third world: the prevalence of poverty, which makes it all but impossible to purchase a computer, and the prevalence of illiteracy, which makes it all but impossible to use one. The Simputer is designed to be usable without requiring any training. According to Swami Manohar, one of the creators, as long as you can see the images and hear the spoken messages, you can use the Simputer.
Slightly larger than a Palm handheld, the Simputer uses the Linux operating system, and has 32MB of flash memory and 32MB of RAM. Among the other features are: an internal modem, an infrared (IR) port, and a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port for connection to other devices. The interface consists of icons and graphic images on a 240 X 320 touch screen. Text to speech capability will support voice feedback in local languages. Three AAA batteries will enable six to eight hours of usage. People will carry their individual data on rugged and inexpensive smart cards.
The Simputer Trust was formed in 1999, with members from the Indian Institute of Science, and Encore Software (a Bangalore-based company). The group expresses their mission as: "the broad goal of harnessing the potential of Information Technology for the benefit of the weakest sections of society." It is not expected that many individuals will own the new devices, but rather that a village might purchase one that all its inhabitants would be able to access. The first devices, expected to cost about $200 (US), will be delivered to government offices in India in 2002. Simputers will be marketed to villages, businesses, and individuals at some later date.
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