IIT B to launch cheapest notebook

India’s premier technical education institution IIT’s Bombay branch has developed a 10-inch netbook, which it claims could be the world’s cheapest, at around Rs 6,000.

The netbook, conceived during the institute’s work with the low-cost Akash tablet, will be unveiled in the second week of February.

“We wanted a device that would make it easy for people to ‘create’ information. The netbook was born out of this desire,” says professor Kannan Moudgalya at IIT Bombay.

He explains that while a tablet is useful to retrieve information, a netbook can create it, through processes such as programming and data entry.

The IIT Bombay team has worked on designing the netbook’s specifications besides creating the OS image and the accompanying software bundle.

“One of the mandates of the low-cost tablet project was to continue to do research and development on affordable access-cum-computing devices,” says Moudgalya.

The project’s objective was to understand its shortcomings and address them in the next product. In a bid to address the needs of students and to drive information creation, the team at IIT Bombay thought it was important to have a fully functional keyboard as opposed to a virtual keyboard, more battery time, a larger screen size (10-inches as compared to a 7-inch screen on a tablet), greater memory, more storage, a normal USB slot (not a micro USB), while not letting go of the price focus.

The netbook also needed to be light-weight for students to carry comfortably.

“We put in a lot of effort to arrive at specifications for the hardware — trying out various machines available in the market, working with different design specifications, and then looking for manufacturers through a tender process,” says Moudgalya.

IIT Bombay has tied up with Delhi-based company Basic Computers, which has delivered 1,000 netbooks for the pilot phase.

Under the pilot, IIT Bombay plans to lend these netbooks to all first year BTech students at the institute who have to undergo an introductory programming course, CS 101. Out of nearly 450 students who are taking this course in the current semester, close to 100 do not have their own laptops.

The HRD ministry’s Akash project, undertaken during the UPA regime, was marred by launch delays and quality issues. “With the new government focusing on virtual classrooms, low-cost computing devices are the need of the hour, but there has to be a focus on quality. Also, the pricing shouldn’t hamper functionality,” says Rohin Kapoor, senior manager education practice at Deloitte.

Moudgalya, however, says the Akash project has been completed successfully at IIT Bombay’s end. One of the objectives of this project, he says, was to explore the viability of such a low-cost tablet. The second objective was to bring down the prices of such devices in the market.

“We have achieved both these objectives and it is now with the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals for final procurement,” he adds.

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