Indians create rural info system

Anand Parthasarathy

BANGALORE: An innovative use of FM radio as the `last mile' bridge to deliver vital information to rural communities has won four students from India a $ 6000 prize — and kudos from Bill Gates — at a worldwide contest organised by Microsoft with the Computer Society of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE).

The team from the Netaji Subhas Intsitute of Technology, Delhi, competed with nearly 300 others and was among the final 30 chosen to carry their entry to Microsoft's global headquarters at Redmond, Washington (U.S.). Called the Windows Embedded ChallengE (WinCE), it required participants to come up with applications using the Windows CE operating environment for hand held devices, and illustrating the theme "Going beyond the boundaries."

The Delhi students — Gursharan Singh, Kanav Abroi, Manas Mittal and Arvind Batra — offered a solution called "Infostation", that used a text into speech converter to broadcast vital weather and farming information to rural communities, using an affordable frequency modulation radio link.

Sensors wirelessly transmitted information regarding temperature, humidity and soil quality which an `expert system' called AgriExpert analysed to provide crop advice to farmers. They were guided by their teacher, Prof. M.P.S. Bhatia and Microsoft-India's academic evangelist Ashwani Sharma.

The entire apparatus costs less than Rs. 20,000 and judges who awarded them the second prize, were impressed that the team had made innovative use of FM radio to solve what telecom planners call the `last mile problem' — how to reach rural areas where there is no telecom link. In the process they exploited the fact that radio is a spoken medium to bridge another gap — lack of reading skills in many villages.

"The contest was a unique experience for us... the highlight was meeting with Bill Gates (Microsoft's Chairman) and listening to him as he shared his ideas about embedded systems of the future," the winners told The Hindu .

The first prize worth $ 8000 was won by a team from Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology for their "intelligent watering system."

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