Published on July 23rd, 2009 | by Babar Bhatti0
Nextlab: Students Create Cell Phone Apps For Developing World
An inspiring news article on how students are developing cell phone applications which can have a large impact on the billions of people in the developing world.
NextLab is based on trying to answer the question “can you make a cellphone change the world?” says its instructor Jhonatan Rotberg, director of the Media Lab’s Next Billion Network – a group, of which NextLab is a part, formed to examine potential applications for the next one billion people expected to become cellphone users over the next three years. With cellphones now in the hands of four billion people worldwide, he says, “we’re at the threshold of something important in history.”
See below for an excerpt related to the use of mobile applications, including those for literacy. Also note the work of Adnan Shahid. Also check out the lectures at Nextlab.
A variety of other applications for cellphones in remote areas are also being developed, including some aimed at improving coordination in areas where transportation both for people and goods is often unpredictable. One such system, called Transport Link, also developed in NextLab, is a way for people who rely on infrequent bus service to get timely updates on when the next bus will come through their area, or to arrange informal transportation with others in the area who have private vehicles.
For commercial transport, a company called Hammock aims to provide a way for shippers to connect with truckers, allowing for a better coordination of resources so that trucks are less likely to travel half-full, and farmers, for example, can get their goods to market without fear of spoilage. Hammock, which includes MIT graduate students Douglas Jardine, Nitin Gulati, and Natalia Maya, won this year’s NextLab Technology Innovation Award.
Legatum Fellow Adnan Shahid of the Sloan School hopes to bring his previous experience as director of IT strategy for MobiLink in Pakistan, to the business of recycling cell phones in that country. Worldwide, only 10 percent of cell phones are recycled each year, resulting in wasted natural resources and higher greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental savings could be significant for Pakistan, whose cities consistently rank among the most polluted in the world.
But there’s more to life than good health, economic empowerment and mobility. Another project aims squarely at ensuring a better future by improving literacy for impoverished people, especially young people, in developing countries where education is often a luxury that remains out of reach for millions of people.
The project, called Celedu, is starting its work in some rural villages in India, but hopes to expand far beyond that. Its initial offerings include cellphone-based games and quizzes that can teach basic literacy skills. For example, a child in India can play a game of Snakes and Ladders on the phone by answering multiple-choice questions about which words begin with a particular letter in the Hindi alphabet. Each correct answer allows the child’s marker to advance through the game board, providing a fun and competitive approach to learning the written language.