India’s Internet Rickshaw

MSNBC has a story on remote villagers going online with help of wireless and a bicycle:

For 12-year-old Anju Sharma, hope for a better life arrives in her poor farming village three days a week on a bicycle rickshaw that carries a computer with a high-speed, wireless Internet connection.

Designed like temple carriages that bear Hindu deities during festivals, the brightly painted pedal-cart rolls into her village in India’s most populous state, accompanied by a computer instructor who gives classes to young and old, students and teachers alike.

“By using computers, I can improve my knowledge,” Sharma, whose parents plan to pull her out of school at 15, said in Hindi, before joining a class on Web cameras. “And that will help me get a job when I grow up.”

The bicycle cart is the center of a project called “Infothela,” or info-cart. It aims to use technology to improve education, health care and access to agricultural information in India’s villages, where most of the country’s 1.06 billion people live.

The mobility of a cycle rickshaw, which is light enough to cross muddy, potholed roads, ensures that the same computer and Internet connection can be used by people in several neighboring villages. The Infothela cart has a specially designed frame and cushioning to protect the computer and accessories from the bumpy ride.

“The mobile platform is necessary to reduce cost of ownership because the resources are shared by a larger population. It is also necessary to push information to women and elderly people who can’t travel outside their village,” said Manoj Kumar, a project manager.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.