The TechInfoCentre can be created using todays technologies. However, a few innovations can be very helpful as we look at a large-scale roll-out, especially in some of the more infrastructurally-poorer parts of India.
Power: There is a need to use pedal power or solar energy or other alternate energy sources to power the computers and other devices at the TeleInfoCentre. Another idea which needs some thought is the use of a12-volt supply directly feeding the computers.
Connectivity: WiFi is undoubtedly the future. The question is: how can WiFi be made to work as a wide area network? Using directional antennae (or even perhaps Pringles cans as has been tried out in some cases) can increase the distance for line-of-sight communications.
Thinner Clients: The aim is to make the thin clients as thin and as cheap as possible. Ideas from embedded computing can be applied here to make for sub-Rs 5,000 (USD 100) devices, which come alive in the presence of a network.
TV as Monitor: The moinitor cost (Rs 2-4,000) is a significant component of the thin client cost. Can this cost be reduced? Cheap TVs are available in plenty. The question is: how can TVs be made into higher resolution (800 x 600 pixels or more) displays?
Server Redundancy: The thick server is now the most critical component in the TeleInfoCentre value chain. If it fails, then the entire centre is unusable. How can we introduce redundancy in the servers, and yet keep the costs low? Dual CPUs, two hard disks with data mirroring, two motherboards, clusters, and blade servers are some ideas which need to be explored further.
Client-Server Connectivity: At present, the assumption is that there is a LAN (10-100 Mbps) between the thin clients and the thick server. If the clients can be made to work on lower speeds, then it may become possible to use a thick server across multiple villages connected through WiFi, thus further simplifying management and reducing set-up costs of the TeleInfoCentres still further.
Desktop Interface: Video Games offer a natural inspiration for rethinking the desktop. How can desktops be made richer, more interactive, more 3D-like such that language and learning does not become a barrier to usage?
Multimedia: There is a need to go beyond just text for communications and interactions. With falling costs of peripherals like digital cameras and webcams, plentiful storage and broadband connections, multimedia is going to be an important driver in applications.
Visual Biz-ic: This is a term I have coined to denote a Visual Basic-like development environment for applications involving business processes and workflows. How can ideas from web services be used to create reusable libraries of governance processes which, with only little modifications, can then be leveraged across TeleInfoCentres for use in different states and countries?
Thus, there is still plenty to do to bring forth the next generation of TeleInfoCentres, which will set new benchmarks in affordability, connectivity and usability.
Tomorrow: Village InfoGrid
Transforming Rural India+T