Intel launches “community platform” initiative

Intel launched its ambitious “community platform” initiative today to address the needs of the “emerging economies” (India, China, Brazil, Russia, South America and African countries).

There was a specific launch of the “Community PC” platform– a full function PC

• that runs on car battery (addressing the chronic power situation in rural India)
• protected against severe dust, humidity and heat (a casing with single opening and a dust filter that can be easily cleaned, motherboard design to work at temperatures up to 55 degrees Celsius)
• a single button to protect data and provide enough functionality to permit continued working till the service person arrives (several hours, if not days later), and,
• a ‘pay as you use” arrangement where the PC stops working after the “paid amount” is over, and renewable after payment, through a “key” entry

There was a keynote address by Hon’ble Minister Jairam Ramesh (Commerce Ministry) followed by talks from Intel India President Frank Jones, Intel Corporate VP Bill Siu and Amar Babu, Intel South Asia MD.

There was an interaction with four “end users” drawn from rural areas of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat & Madhya Pradesh in addition to “video links and actual demonstrations” from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh kiosk operators; the discussions and demonstrations were moderated by the creative genius Ashutosh Gowariker who had directed the highly successful Indian movie “Lagaan” (that was nominated for Oscar Award).

The launch itself was done by Frank Jones driving a tractor into the main hall and bringing the “much awaited community PC” followed by a Lecture-cum-Demonstration by Intel VP Will Agatstein and the Product Manager Rakesh Godhwani; they showed a set of applications – adult literacy (from TCS), children education (from Azim Premji Foundation) and Entertainment (Hindi movie) – convincing the audience that the hardware is “best” (no deficient functionality) and “cheap” (shared access will bring down the costs to Rs 10 per person per day for 3 persons over 3 years).

Intel also used the occasion to bring in a whole range of partners like Wipro, HCL (hardware), IIIT Bangalore (Research), HLL & ITC (Logistics) and several NGOs. They were ackonwedged with a Memento from Intel. The “eco-system is already working”; it was heartening to see Wipro launching Bharat PC on this platform and HCL launching its own model based on the “reference design”

There was an interesting “panel discussion” that followed, coordinated by Sadagopan of IIIT Bangalore.

The distinguished panelists include Professor MS Swaminathan (who joined over a video link), Hon’ble Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Iyer, Alok Bhargava, Chief Executive, Rural CSC Program of IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing & Financing Services), Ajai Chowdhury, CEO, HCL Infosystems and Rohit Kumar, Director, Public Sector, Microsoft India.

Mani Shankar Iyer brought out the data that India is not only the largest democracy; with 3 million elected representatives of Panchayati Raj (village government), India also has the largest elected representatives. He talked of the different ministries, governments and companies working together to create the critical mass of users and applications.

Professor Swaminathan talked of the need to work in “mission mode” to create rich content and reach the goal of 100,000 Kiosks by August 2007 (60th year of Indian Independence). He also emphasized the need for capacity building.

Ajay Chowdhury passionately talked about HCL working in this area for decades and holding on to “hardware manufacture” in India for three decades. He talked of the need for layered applications – literacy, e-Governance, entertainment, and communications – each though small, contributing enough to make the “stack” rich and sustainable.

Alok Bhargava gave the details of the ambitious 100,000 Common Service Centers project of the Ministry of Information technology (under the National e-Governance Plan) and the need to look beyond e-Governance applications.

Rohit Kumar mentioned that what Intel is launching – a platform that can scale that is maintainable and broad-enough to sustain a whole range of exciting applications – is “an idea whose time has come”. He also talked of Project Shihksha of Microsoft that addresses capacity building.

Intel’s Willy Agatstein had the last word. He talked of his thirty years with IT and the promise that he sees of “community PC” having the potential to “double the income” of the rural community.

There were interesting questions on sustainability, importance of basic amenities (like drinking water) and a dose of cynicism (where are the success stories?).

All in all, it was a packed day; hopefully, Intel will organize another event next March to take stock of the “real” developments over a year; only then we will know the real impact of today’s launch.

(Intel “Jaagrati” – Community PC Launch Delhi Pragati Maidan March 29, 2006)

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