Aakash tablet launched in the US

Pilot program could pave way for mass production.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: The long-in-development Aakash computer tablet has just launched a pilot program in the US. If successful, the program could pave the way for mass production of the low-cost tablet computer for education purposes in the country.

The Aakash was originally meant for distribution in India, in order to give low-income university students a way of easily accessing the Internet and other educational applications and tools. The tablet – which reportedly costs around just $35-$50 to manufacture – was launched in October 2011 in India, with an upgraded model (the Aakash 2) released in April the following year.

Initially planned for distribution by the Indian government to all university students in the country (a number some estimates put at 200 million), delays have caused the universal launch to be delayed until next year, when the Aakash tablet will presumably be in its fourth iteration.

Now, North Carolina-based software developer and entrepreneur Chris Evans wants to bring the device into US schools, calling its low cost and high functionality a “game-changer.” He learned of the Aakash’s existence through fellow software entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa, who is based in California. Evans believed that the Aakash was the perfect way to get kids, whose parents may not be able to afford the latest iPhones or smartphone gadgets, to keep up with school and make it not only more interesting, but more engaging and fun.

Evans funded 100 Aakash tablets for Communities in Schools (CIS), for which he sits on the board. The tablets come pre-loaded with a number of educational apps, mostly developed by Mango Learning, a New-York based developer. The apps even contain evaluation software that can track a student’s progress and share that information with instructors.

Evans is not alone in his idea to make the Aakash a widespread educational tool for impoverished youth. Organizations in countries as widespread as Afghanistan and Mexico have voiced an interest in using the Aakash as a way to reform education and social systems in their countries. A number of African countries are also developing and implementing programs using the Aakash tablet.

The Aakash runs on the Android operating system (OS) and is made to support numerous file types for documents (.doc, .pdf, Microsoft Office applications, etc.), music (.mp3, .wma, .wav, etc.), and pictures (.jpg, .png, .gif, etc.). It contains a removable 2GB Micro SD card, 2 USB ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a charging jack (it is also capable of being powered via solar energy), HD video playback capabilities, and is Wi-Fi ready. It is produced by DataWind, a Britain-based company, and manufactured mostly at their plant in Hyderabad. The subsidized cost of the Aakash for students is around 1,130 rupees (around $19).

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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