By Dan Simmons
BBC, 9 May 2014
The USB flash drive is one of the most simple, everyday pieces of technology that many people take for granted. Now it’s being eyed as a possible solution to bridging the digital divide, by two colourful entrepreneurs behind the start-up Keepod. Nissan Bahar and Franky Imbesi aim to combat the lack of access to computers by providing what amounts to an operating-system-on-a-stick. In six weeks, their idea managed to raise more than $40,000 (£23,750) on fundraising site Indiegogo, providing the cash to begin a campaign to offer low-cost computing to the two-thirds of the globe’s population that currently has little or no access. The test bed for the project is the slums of Nairobi in Kenya.
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Very few people here use a computer or have access to the net. But Mr Bahar and Mr Imbesi want to change that with their Keepod USB stick. It will allow old, discarded and potentially non-functional PCs to be revived, while allowing each user to have ownership of their own “personal computer” experience – with their chosen desktop layout, programs and data – at a fraction of the cost of providing a unique laptop, tablet or other machine to each person. In addition, the project avoids a problem experienced by some other recycled PC schemes that resulted in machines becoming “clogged up” and running at a snail’s pace after multiple users had saved different things to a single hard drive.
Phi Beta Iota: Older readers will recall the DARPA STRONG ANGEL initiative that gave anyone participating in information sharing operations for humanitarian needs a USB with a complete system on it, TOOZL. This is not a new idea, but perhaps now the time is right for more aggressive thinking about how to empower the five billion poor whose aggregate income is four times that of the one billion rich. We continue to believe that a very low cost cell phone with free access to the Internet via call centers and globally-distributed volunteer networks, is the better alternative.