This article appeared in http://www.thinkcycle.org
The article details an initiative launched in February 2003 in Phon Kham, a village in the jungles of northern Laos: a human-powered computer called the Jhai Computer (Jhai means hearts and minds working together in Laotian).
A villager on a stationary bicycle will make it possible for the village to connect to the Internet via wireless remote. The idea is to provide communication, because every day they sell their ducks, rice, weaving and chickens, and sell for less money than
they should because they can't know the real price down in the towns.
Organisers claim that this project is unique in that it relies on simple materials like foot pedals and wireless antennas rather than high-tech devices (or even electricity). All 200 residents of Phon Kham live in bamboo houses with thatch roofs, none of
which have electricity or telephone access.
Laos is the 10th-poorest country worldwide. The bike-pedaled generator will power a battery that in turn runs the computer, which sits in an 8-by-10-inch box. The computer will run on only 12 watts (compared to a typical computer's 90 watts). A wireless
card (an 802.11b, the current industry standard) will be hooked up to an antenna bolted on the roof of a bamboo house; the signal will be beamed from there to an antenna nailed to a tree on top of a mountain. The signal will be bounced to Phon Hong, which
sits 25 miles from Phon Kham and is the nearest big village with phone lines. The phone lines then hook to an Internet service provider. The Jhai runs on Linux software.
A Laotian IBM engineer in New York to customised the software to the Lao language. The Internet connection will enable the Jhai Computer to be used not only for e-mail, but also as a two-way telephone system (through Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP).
It has no moving parts, the lid seals up tight, and you can dunk it in water and it will still run...
The idea is to be rugged, last at least 10 years and run in both the monsoon season and the dry season.