Right on cue, on the occasion of National Education Day yesterday, President Pranab Mukherjee and the Human Resources and Development (HRD) minister, MM Pallam Raju, launched the Aakash 2 tablet at Vigyan Bhawan, putting an end to months of speculation surrounding the launch of the tablet. The upgraded tablet will be made available to students in India at a subsidised price of Rs 1,130. According to reports, Aakash 2 will be made available to engineering college students and universities for starters, and will be subsequently distributed to others.
Datawind CEO with the newly-launched Aakash 2 tablet
The Aakash 2 tablet has been designed, developed, and manufactured by DataWind Ltd for supply to IIT Bombay under the Human Resources and Development ministry’s National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NME-ICT). The launch was part of a two-day workshop conducted by IIT Bombay for faculty in engineering colleges using remote training applications developed at IIT Bombay’s Open Source Development Lab. Over the past many months, IIT Bombay has developed unique and compelling applications for engineering students on the Aakash2 platform, which include 3D-modelling, C++ programming, remote and collaborative training applications, robotic control, and live assessment tools. IIT Bombay has partnered with the Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), to assist with the hardware testing and logistics.
The Subrao Nilekani Chair Professor at IIT Bombay, Dr Deepak B Phatak, heads the project at IIT Bombay with the support of C-DAC. Professor Phatak was quoted as saying, “I'm not only confident, but sure that Aakash 2.0 is here to stay.” In the first phase, DataWind is to supply 100,000 units of Aakash 2 to IIT Bombay, which intends to distribute them to Engineering University and College students. NME-ICT Director, N K Sinha said, “We envision all 220 million students across India to be enabled by low cost Aakash devices in the coming years.”
The Aakash 2 is a significant upgrade over the original Aakash tablet. The initial version of the tablet had a 7-inch resistive touchscreen, which struggled to respond to touch. It ran Android v2.2 on a 366MHz processor, based on an older ARM architecture. The Aakash 2 tablet is likely to be replaced by a successor, which will have a dual-core Cortex - A9 processor.
Speaking on the launch of Aakash 2, DataWind CEO, Suneet Singh Tuli said, “We wish to use technology to fight poverty with a passion. Access to computers and internet will help deliver a better quality education and level the playing field for all Indians”.
The Aakash 2 takes forward the nation’s ambitions of making quality education affordable to the have-nots in the country. Over the past month, even as scores of students in the country awaited the launch and availability of the Aakash 2 tablet, several units were sent across to all ministers as well as state chief ministers for their feedback.
As per reports, roughly 22 crore students across India will get the device in the next five to six years. Reports suggest that by Monday alone, 20,000 devices are expected to reach students.
At the launch
HRD Ministry officials shared that the device can not only run on Linux operating system, it can also do Aadhar authentication and control a robot from a distance.
In the later half of September this year, Datawind started supplying units of Aakash 2 to IIT Bombay. In fact in an earlier statement, the company revealed that an October launch of the tablet was likely. Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli told PTI, “Supplies are on to IIT Bombay. In the next few weeks, it should be launched. I do not have the exact date, but HRD Minister (Kapil Sibal) has said he wants to launch on the anniversary date which is October 5”. However, Tuli added that the launch would depend on Sibal’s schedule.
Recently, two units of the upgraded version of the Aakash tablet were presented to the Gujarat CM Narendra Modi by Kapil Sibal. The ministry's move of sending units of the Aakash 2 to all state chief ministers for feedback was particularly strange considering the tablet was yet to make its way to several of its pre-designated locations. India’s attempt at low-cost computing has primarily been one to ensure quality education is made available to those who earlier found it beyond their means. Despite criticism, there still is a lot of optimism surrounding the low-cost tablet.