A $100 One-PDA-A-Learner (OPAL?)

20 03 2007

Dr. Paul Trafford of Oxford University has got me thinking with his idea for a $100 PDA for education. He’s already put together the figures to show that it’s already possible – yes, right now – to put together a $100 PDA package for students (even his older figures from last year put the package price under US$150, the current cost of manufacturing an OLPC laptop), which could include a local version of Wikipedia, packaged up for complete searching and reference using Tomeraider software.

Seeing as he’s managed to put together a $100 learner PDA without the global consortium the OLPC project has entailed, he now has me thinking what one could put together in a custom $100 PDA, built and designed from scratch, and based on an open platform architecture. After all, it’s already possible to build a complete, though basic, mobile phone handset for $25… and an open-platform, Linux-based handheld device was recently launched by electronics company Grundig, featuring a 2-megapixel camera, sleek clamshell design, mp3 player, microSD expandable memory, FM radio, and wireless connectivity – all achieved with a single chip (minimising production costs). The feasibility of a Linux-based handheld device is further supported by the fact that most Motorola phones have been running Linux as their OS since 2003, not to mention many Samsung models. Even GPS can (and has been) be integrated with a Linux-based handheld device, and according to some analysts, Linux is expected to be one of the dominant OSes in the handheld market by 2010

Dr. Trafford has his own wishlists for what might be included in such a tool – veering away from a telephone-like device towards more of a PDA-like device, and I agree that a PDA-type interface could provide a good deal more flexiblity in terms of learning activities and interfaces.

Whatever the form factor, I personally would like to see an informationally connected – or at least, Internet connected – low cost device, which leads me to the latest internet buzz over the development of a “Google phone“. Among Google’s 20-odd research projects, they’ve confirmed they are working on an informationally-connected handheld device:

Isabel Aguilera, head of Google’s Iberian operations, was quoted last week in Spanish news site Noticias.com as acknowledging the existence of a part-time project by some Google engineers to develop a mobile phone.

In her interview at http://tinyurl.com/2feypv/, translated from Spanish, the Google executive said her company “has been investigating” developing a mobile phone that works both as an internet access device and as a way to extend internet use to emerging markets customers.

A handheld internet access device? From the world’s current leader in information access and connectivity? Designed for emerging market cutomers (i.e. low cost)? From an educator’s perspective, this sounds like an exciting prospect, and should investigation lead Google to actual design and implementation, I’ll certainly be following any news keenly. Google have been making it abundantly clear that mobile technology is their current priority for continued growth, and have proven it through their creation of mobile widgets for mail, maps, news, and searching; their recent purchase of Neven Vision also hints at their interest in creating new tools that will enable the use of image recognition to perform “visual searches” and discover information about objects using a camera phone.

It’s all very interesting to think about. I’m mulling Dr. Trafford’s ideas around in my head, and I’ll certainly blog some ideas of my own as they synthesise more substantially.

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5 responses

20 03 2007
Mat Ripley


It all seems very plausible. I would be happy for this to use our TomeRaider application, as mentioned in the article, for such a project at very very discounted prices, perhaps free:)

Mat Ripley
The makers of TomeRaider.

20 03 2007
A $100 One PDA A Learner (OPAL?) | Pilka

[…] read full story […]

20 03 2007
Paul Trafford


Your thoughts on a $100 One-PDA-A-Learner are very welcome. Many thanks for picking this up. My musings on OxPDA are now more than 2 years old and since then connectivity has improved a lot, so my wishes should probably be revised.

An affordable Linux-based PDA sounds a good candidate, but brand new equipment always comes at a considerable premium. If it is to work I think it is important to bring in experiences from a broad range of initiatives, each of which can contribute at least some lessons. One project that offered much promise a few years ago was the Simputer, but it didn’t prove as cost-effective as hoped.

Look forward to your further reflections.

– Paul

21 03 2007
Mobile Learning » Complete hardware schematics for sub-$150 handheld device

[…] In my last post, i picked up Dr. Paul Trafford’s idea for a $100 PDA, and he was gracious enough to add his comment: Your thoughts on a $100 One-PDA-A-Learner are very welcome. Many thanks for picking this up. My musings on OxPDA are now more than 2 years old and since then connectivity has improved a lot, so my wishes should probably be revised. […]

28 08 2007

Cool..I thought about this product too! Posted it on wikipedia but it was deleted! I’d love to see the WikiPDA come to life. But the PDA part in ‘WikiPDA’ is more from wikiPeDiA than from the PDA PDA. It’s not a general purpose device, it just comes with a copy of wikipedia that can be sync’d up.

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