The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Watch it Bill! Bengal techie lines up tablet PC for a song

New Delhi, Jan 6: Tablet PC makers have a bitter pill to swallow: they have competition from Partha Prathim Chakrabarti of IIT Kharagpur who is working on a similar product that is expected to cost less than a tenth of the price.

The tablet PC — seen as a bridge between a powerful PC and a scribble pad — is being touted as the latest gizmo in the wired world. Tablet PC makers like Dell, Compaq and Toshiba are working in collaboration with Microsoft which has developed a specialised software for the product.

Microsoft has been aggressively marketing its Windows XP product that has been customised to meet the requirements of the tablet PC. Bill Gates has been acting as the evangelist for the tablet PC and promoted the product during his presentations in India two months ago.

Chakrabarti and IIT Kharagpur have been working on a tablet PC model as part of its initiative to provide reliable and low cost communications equipment for education. The institute plans to develop the product that could be commercially sold as cheap as $150 (about Rs 7,500) against a competing product that sells at $2,000 (Rs 1 lakh).

“We are on the job to develop a product that could be used for enhancement of education in many parts of the country. The Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad, has already shown interest in the product. We are aware that the technology that is available to us cannot produce a product at $150 but our endeavour is to develop that within next the 18 months,” says Chakrabarti, professor, computer science and engineering.

“We are working on open-source Linux software (available for free, unlike Microsoft’s) since we believe that it is important if the product is to reach the masses in a big way,” added Chakrabarti.

This isn’t the first time an indigenous product has challenged an established product. Scientists in Bangalore had developed the Simputer which was India’s answer to the palmtop.

Priced at Rs 9,000 and loaded with local language software based on the Linux platform, the product is all set to become a major hit for various applications.

The tablet PC isn’t the only initiative taken by IIT Kharagpur. It is simultaneously developing a product that will help detect arsenic material present in the waterbodies in eastern parts of the country.

“We would like to roll out the prototype products based on software produced by us. This will be based on a micro-electric mechanical device that will determine the performance of the chip,” said Chakrabarti.

The institute is also working on a telemedicine pilot project in Sikkim and Orissa where the researchers have successfully used simple copper lines and wireless equipment to deliver the medical data that need a high-resolution impact.

“The software has already been developed and tested in the pilot projects and we will soon use it in other parts of the country,” Chakrabarti added.

IIT Kharagpur is likely to roll out a software that will allow a blind person to hear a short message over the mobile phone. This has been a demand from visually challenged people.

The institute has recently received financial assistance from chipmaker Intel for formal verification of a technique used to check the design of a chip. In addition, the institute has received $25,000 from Synopsis and $45,000 from SUN Microsystems.

“Funding is not a problem. What we need is more research and development aimed at development of mass products,” said Chakrabarti.

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