Rural India to get PCs that can run on car batteries

Intel Corp. will introduce a PC in India later this year that can run off a car battery in a bid to serve the needs of the country’s rural and farming communities, company executives said Thursday.

The Community PC, as it is called, has been designed to provide Internet access to communities and villages in rural India, Amar Babu, Intel’s director for sales and marketing in South Asia, told reporters Thursday at a press briefing at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Bangalore.

He did not disclose configuration or pricing details for the systems, which are now being tested in 10 locations across India.

The PC will be able to use a car battery as a back-up power supply, since the supply of electricity is sporadic in many parts of rural India, Patrick Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group, said in a speech Thursday at IDF.

The computer has also been designed to handle extreme heat conditions of more than 38 degrees Celsius. It also contains special screens and filters to reduce the amount of dust and insects that can enter the box and affect its reliability, Gelsinger said.

On account of the low incomes in rural India, nongovernmental organizations and vendors have advocated community devices, such as Internet kiosks, that are either owned by the community or run on behalf of the community by a service provider.

Intel, in Santa Clara, California, announced earlier this year that it was setting up “platform definition centers” in Shanghai, Sao Paolo, Cairo and Bangalore as part of a strategy to build specialized products for emerging markets, which have different needs from the rest of the computing world.

Each center is staffed with ethnographers, designers, engineers and systems architects who conduct in-depth research and analysis to drive platform development, Intel said.

The Community PC is the first offering from the Bangalore center and other products are under development, Babu said. “We are looking at rural usage, education and a variety of other areas where such platforms would be required,” he said.

Intel is also piloting WiMax broadband wireless technologies in India, in tandem with telecom service providers and state governments, Babu said. WiMax could provide the connectivity that will be required for the Community PCs, he said.

A number of technology companies including Hewlett-Packard Co. are developing products and services that can help bridge the digital divide in emerging economies like India. HP Labs India, which was set up in Bangalore in 2002 by Palo Alto, California-based HP, is developing products appropriate for India’s rural markets. Wyse Technology Inc., a San Jose, California based vendor of thin-client computing, announced in June that it is part of a consortium that is piloting a platform built around its thin client technology for delivering services to rural areas.

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