Starting thinking today that the iPad with some modifications could be used to provide universal computing and information services to the world’s poor as a One iPad per Child (OipC). Such a solution could easily replace the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) that exists today with a more commercially viable product.
From my perspective only a few additions would make the current iPad ideal for universal OipC use. Specifically, I would suggest we add
- Solar battery charger – perhaps the back could be replaced with a solar panel to charge the battery. Or maybe the front could be reconfigured to incorporate a solar charger underneath or within its touch panel screen.
- Mesh WiFi – rather than being a standard WiFi target, it would be more useful for the OipC to support a mesh based WiFi system. Such a mesh WiFi could route internet request packets/data from one OipC to another, until a base station were encountered providing a broadband portal for the mesh.
- Open source free applications – it would be nice if more open office applications were ported to the new OipC so that free office tools could be used to create content.
- External storage – software support for NFS or CIFS over WiFi would allow for a more sophisticated computing environment and together with the mesh WiFi would allow a central storage repository for all activities.
- Camera – for photos and video interaction/feedback.
Probably other changes needed but these will suffice for discussion purposes. With such a device and reasonable access to broadband, the world’s poor could easily have most of the information and computing capabilities of the richest nations. They would have access to the Internet and as such could participate in remote k-12 education as well as obtain free courseware from university internet sites. They would have access to online news, internet calling/instant messaging and free email services which could connect them to the rest of the world.
I believe most of the OipC hardware changes could be viable additions to the current iPad with the possible exception of the mesh WiFi. But there might be a way to make a mesh WiFi that is software configurable with only modest hardware changes (using software radio transcievers).
Using the current iPad
Of course, the present iPad without change could be used to support all this, if one were to add some external hardware/software:
- An external solar panel charging system – multiple solar charging stations for car batteries exist today which are used in remote areas. If one were to wire up a cigarette lighter and purchase a car charger for the iPad this would suffice as a charging station. Perhaps such a system could be centralized in remote areas and people could pay a small fee to charge their iPads.
- A remote WiFi hot spot – many ways to supply WiFi hot spots for rural areas. I heard at one time Ireland was providing broadband to rural areas by using local pubs as hot spots. Perhaps a local market could be wired/radio-connected to support village WiFi.
- A camera – buy a cheap digital camera and the iPad camera connection kit. This lacks real time video streaming but it could provide just about everything else.
- Apps and storag – software apps could be produced by anyone. Converting open office to work on an iPad doesn’t appear that daunting except for the desire to do it. Providing external iPad storage can be provided today via cloud storage applications. Supplying pure NFS or CIFS support as native iPad facilities that other apps could use would be more difficult but could be easily provided if there were a market.
The nice thing about the iPad is that it’s a monolithic, complete unit. Other than power there are minimal buttons/moving parts or external components present. Such simplified componentry should make it more easily usable in all sorts of environments. Not sure how rugged the current iPad is and how well it would work out in rural areas without shelter, but this could easily be gauged and changes made to improve it’s surviveability.
Having the mesh, solar charger, and camera all onboard the OipC would make this all easier to deploy but certainly not cheaper. The current 16GB iPad parts and labor come in around US$260 (from livescience). The additional parts to support the onboard camera, WiFi mesh and solar charger would drive costs up but perhaps not significantly. For example, adding the iPhone 3m pixel camera to the iPad might cost about US$10 and a 3gS transciever (WiFi mesh substitute) would cost an additional US$3 (both from theappleblog).
As for the solar panel battery charger, I have no idea, but a 10W standalone solar panel can be had from Amazon for $80. Granted it doesn’t include all the parts needed to convert power to something that the iPad can use and it’s big, 10″ by 17″. This is not optimal and would need to be cut in half (both physically and costwise) to better fit the OicP back or front panel.
Such a device might be a worthy successor to OLPC at the cost of roughly double that devices price of US$150 per laptop. Packaging all these capabilities in the OicP might bring some economies of scale that could potentially bring its price down some more.
Can the OipC replace the OLPC?
One obvious advantage that the OipC would have over the OLPC is that it was based on a commercial device. If one were to use the iPad as it exists today with the external hardware discussed above it would be a purely commercial device. As such, future applications should be more forthcoming, hardware advances should be automatically incorporated in the latest products, and a commercial market would exist to supply and support the products. All this should result in better, more current software and hardware technology being deployed to 3rd world users.
Some disadvantages for the OipC vs. the OLPC include lack of a physical keyboard, open source operating system and access to all open source software, and usb ports. Of course all the software and courseware specifically designed for the OLPC would also not work on the OipC. The open sourced O/S and the USB are probably the most serious omissions. iPad has a number of external keyboard options which can be purchased if needed.
Now as to how to supply broadband to rural hot spots around the 3rd world, we must leave this for a future post…