Information and communications technology has the potential for deep social impact in developing regions but today’s devices – laptops, mobile phones, and other devices – are often still too expensive for many scenarios. We argue that custom integrated circuits can enable a new tier of low-cost information access devices with a price point to make them widely accessible. And, with control over the silicon, these systems can economically address many other challenges. To evaluate our claim, we focus on a deceptively simple problem – low-cost information access for illiterate populations through audio recordings – and show how custom silicon allows us to reduce cost, lower power, leverage conventional infrastructure in unconventional ways, and optimize the interface for usability. In particular, we show how a rural audio computer can be designed around just three chips, use an inexpensive capacitive touch interface, employ inductive communications for peer-to-peer data transfer, and employ data download over GSM voice and FM broadcast as two wide area options. The resulting design point – enabled by silicon integration – affords a device that can be built for $7.60, a third of the cost with COTS components.
Zhiyoong Foo, David Devecsery, Thomas Schmid, Nathan Clark, Mohammad Ghaed, Ye-Sheng Kuo, Inhee Lee, Yongmin Park, Nathaniel Slottow, Vikas Vinay, Micheal Wieckowski, Dongmin Yoon, Cliff Schmidt, David Blaauw, Peter Chen, Prabal Dutta, “A Case for Custom Silicon in Enabling Low-Cost Information Technology for Developing Regions,” ACM Symposium on Computing for Development, December 2010 ©IEEE