India on Thursday launched a low-cost access-cum-computing device for learners and teachers, which would be made available through educational institutions by 2011.

“The price of the device is expected to be around $35 (Rs. 1,500), gradually dropping down to $20 and ultimately $10 per piece,” Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said, while unveiling the device here.

“This is real, tangible and we will take it forward,” he said. India, he said, had demonstrated to the world that a cheaper device could be made, when prices were ruling high. These computers will be accessible to 20 crore children across the country and the total cost is expected to be approximately Rs. 10,000 crore, including a 50 per cent subsidy component.

Since this effort of continuous reduction in price and enhancement in capabilities would require a constant endeavour for research and development, Indian Institutes of Technology and other technical institutions are setting up research teams to cover a wide range of issues in achieving the ultimate goal in terms of price and quality, the Minister said.

However, while the technology is available, the Ministry is yet to work out the modalities of distribution, as this would require connectivity and involve transportation costs.

The new device is an improvement over the one launched at Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh last year that had come under criticism for various reasons, including the cost.

The government will also try and patent some technology used in the devices though most of the parts were available over the shelf, N.K. Sinha, Joint Secretary in charge of the project said. The device has a touch-screen, video-conferencing facility, multimedia content, searchable Pdf reader, unzip tool, and storage. Work is now on to provide these with solar panels.

Under the National Mission on Education through Information and Technology (NMEICT), connectivity is proposed to be provided to universities and colleges. In nearly 8,500 colleges already connected, high quality e-content in various subjects is being created. Under the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning, nearly 500 web-based and video courses are available and uploaded on ‘sakshat' and other portals. Another 1,100 courses in various disciplines of engineering and sciences are also being generated.

Initially there was lukewarm response from the IT corporate houses to the Ministry's proposal, following which discussions were held with a group of experts at the Indian Institutes of Science at Bangalore and various Indian Institutes of Technology. Now that technology is available, the Ministry expects many corporates to volunteer to produce the device, which would ultimately be available commercially also.