Thursday, September 02, 2010

HCL Technologies to help MHRD's $35 computer project

Computer services firm HCL Technologies Ltd. will help manufacture 100,000 low-cost computers under a government project to boost the role of technology in educa-tion. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Rajasthan will test them out.

At a meeting of the national mission on education through information and communication technology, or NMEICT, the human resource development (HRD) ministry said IIT-Rajasthan will carry out "in-tensive laboratory and field tests across the country" using the devices. The meeting allocated Rs. 30 crore for the project, and decided to procure the $35 computers before 10 January. The computers, unveiled on 23 July, will be made available to university-level students from the second half of next year. The Wednesday meeting was attended by HRD minister Kapil Sibal, HCL's chief executive Ajai Chowdhary, the telecom secretary, the scientific secretary to the government's principal scientific adviser and the directors of several IITs.

"Yes, HCL is our partner", IIT-Rajasthan's Director Prem Kalra said. "We as an institute will not directly manufacture the computer. HCL will help us". HCL could not be immediately reached for comment. Ministry officials said IIT-Rajasthan will conduct field trials in different parts of the country, at different times and under different weather conditions, to gauge the efficiency of the computers. If the comput-ers pass the field tests, the government will procure 1 million units in the first phase, making them available to undergraduate and postgraduate students across the country. There are 12.4 million higher education students in India.

The low-cost computer has been developed by students and scientists from the IITs in Kanpur, Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Chennai, Mumbai and Kharagpur, and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, in collaboration with NMEICT. The 8.9x7-inch touch screen device, weighing 1.5kg, is not as advanced as a modern-day personal computer, but it will offer support for video, web conferencing, PDF reader, unzip tool, computing programmes such as Open Office, an input-output interface option for allowing IPTV, digital TV and media players, among other things.

The ministry wants to up- grade these computers as well. The process "would begin as soon as possible, not later than 10 January 2011", a ministry official said, requesting anonymity. "There will be simultaneous field trials across many locations of the country. A report will be prepared for the ministry, which will be the base of the scaling up of production of such low-cost computing device in future", the official said.

This is the first tangible success for the government's efforts to provide cheap computers to students. Five years ago, US-based One Laptop Per Child Association Inc. offered computers at $100 in India, as part of a mission to provide affordable educational computers across the developing world. But the HRD ministry declined the offer as the cost was still over its budget. In 2006, the ministry promised to produce computers that could be sold for as low as $10.

Source: Mint, September 2, 2010

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