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Published on July 23rd, 2009 | by Babar Bhatti


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.

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0 Responses to Nextlab: Students Create Cell Phone Apps For Developing World

  1. PyarImpossible says:

    I hope you so far are saving the planet by Recycling. Save the Earth, It’s the only planet with chocolates :)

  2. says:

    Great Adnan. That’s my note with B1 and I will contact you shortly with number of research initiatives in the same direction that I’m working, maybe we can collaborate. It’s encouraging to see researchers focusing in Pakistan and out on dynamic solutions.

  3. Adnan Shahid says:

    Thank you very much for putting this news item. I just wanted to provide more information on my research in the area of recycling.

    I worked with Prof. Peter Senge and Prof. Wanda in Leadership Lab (L-Lab) on a project for University of Sao Paulo (Brazil). Objective was to look into e-waste recycling. We looked into end of life process of electronics as well as green procurement of new technology. Research did cover the new technology that was easier to recycle and less toxic. I am pleased to let you know that as a result of the research, we had at least one local Brazilian IT vendor achieve EPEAT Gold certification in green computers. I will be happy to discuss the subject and can be reached at

  4. B1 says:

    Adnan Shahid’s Cell phone recy is a good effort. I’m a researcher myself and I think the problem does not end at recycling the cell phone the complete solution to this is dematerialization. To use less material while producing a phone. Some one needs to pull ropes at the source too, recycling is the second step. Like for example the cell phone plastic is made through crude oil and metals like zinc is used for various purposes, so at source this chemical use needs to come down and we need to find alternatives.

    Maybe the same MIT team can also work in this direction while they are focusing on the recycling. I would love to research myself but I’m on a the software applications side of the mobile research but as the common sense suggests that while taking up any problem and finding its solution, the source needs to be curtailed because if not than the scope of problem would keep increasing, for this particular case you would keep introducing various recy techniques but problem would be increasing because the source of the problem is left panhandled. While Recy is a good aftermath control but when you are doing a research at a global level things like the ones I mentioned should not be left out, otherwise your research is not providing a complete solution to the globe. You can’t call it a flaw in the current research planning, but maybe an oversight that the team at MIT also needs to look into.

    This is something that only another researcher can catch while doing analysis of some one elses research. That’s why they say to have it proof read by a fellow researcher before making your research public. So I guess I did it for Adnan Shahid for free. Frankly this type of oversight is also not acceptable from a research coming from MIT. Need to more detail oriented.

  5. Pingback: Nextlab: Students Create Cell Phone Apps For Developing World | Tea Break

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