Keepod: reimagining personal computing with $ 7 bootable Android USB sticks

Personal commuting has captured the imagination of our generation for the last three decades. At the OS market share level Apple & Microsoft fought a bloody battle only for Microsoft to emerge as a winner of the personal computing era. In the late 2000s, the advent of the iPhone started another era. We’ve moved from personal computing to mobile computing where Apple showed its dominance in terms of innovation and high profit margins.

During the PC era, Bill Gates said he would like to put a Windows PC in every home. However, Microsoft was left behind in the mobile era. Today, the world is a very different place. Thanks to the mobile revolution there are nearly 2 billion people connected to the internet. There are many big and small companies that are trying to connect the next 5 billion people to the digital world. For example, Facebook has Internet.org project, and Google has project loon. Connecting people via mobile phones is really good, but is it enough?

Keepod USB Computer

Keepod USB computer

Recently another startup called Keepod.org came to the limelight for trying to rethink computing-access to the poor. Keepod believes when you are on the go, you can use mobile. But when you want to sit and get things done (write long paper, prepare presentation) you could use personalized Keepod USB that can turn any computer into your personal device.

YourStory spoke to Nissan Bahan, the Founder & CEO of Keepod, to understand his views on the device they are making accessible for the people at the bottom of the pyramid. Keepod’s campaign on Indiegogo has raise $40,000 to get the project rolling.

What is Keepod?

Keepod is a $7 USB stick with standardized bootable OS. Using Keepod, a user gets his personal computing environment on a simple and affordable Keepod USB device. That means you can walk around with your personal computer in your pocket. It runs on the free and open source Android 4.4 operating system (KitKat). It attempts to make computing more personal and affordable because the USB drive can be used with any computer. Nissan says, “Keepod is an improvement on previous, and similar Linux systems which were more limited in their functionality. Whereas Android is a full-fledged portable OS. Keepod separates software from the hardware.  Your identity  is not tied with any particular computer you access.

 

Why USB?

The company opted for the USB solution because of the ease of use in terms of price and accessibility. Compare to the legacy alternatives, it is easily replaceable. The devices may get lost, stolen, damaged and eventually die, thus it must be a cheap and available solution. And the USB caters better to the user’s needs and is easily replaceable than any other legacy alternative.

Nissan adds, “We don’t consider online solution as we have many projects where online is not available. The solution needs to be usable offline and online according to the specific project. The actual project delivery is not made by us but by organizations or individuals that know the target community. We don’t pretend to understand the needs of someone in Mathare, Delhi, or London. So we provide the tools to project leaders to shape the user experience.”

Socially and environmentally responsible computing

Providing a PC to everyone may not be possible. And it’s neither sustainable nor scalable. According to Nissan, they feel that “trying to make cheap PCs and tablets is crazy.” (Do you remember the infamous projects like OLPC, one laptop per child)? Keepod’s mantra is: “Instead of trying to provide one PC for every person, recycled PCs are shared personally between many.”

Nissan adds, “In the United States alone 85,000 PCs are being thrown away each day.” So at the core of their project’s quest is finding a simple solution to reuse existing resources. Keepod is working with organizations who refurbish computers with no cost and then redirect these used terminals to schools in low income communities.

Keepod takes an old discarded PC, remove the hard-drive and puts it at kiosk like ‘access point’ where people can share it using Keepod USB. This removes the cost of maintenance, meaning no broken hard drives, no miss-configurations or corruption of the host, no reinstalling and recovery of the systems files. This makes the computer terminals to live longer than traditional alternatives.

Keepod’s business model

One of Keepod’s business model runs like Toms Shoe. You buy one for yourself, as well as for someone who can’t afford it. They call it ‘GET + GIVE’, get your own and give devices.

The other business model is working closely with NGO projects to provide personal computing to a community empowerment in slum areas in Africa, India and other part of the world.

They also have A Reseller program where anyone who is interested can start a Keepod access point and distribute Keepod devices. For example, café can keep Keepod access points (computers without hard disk) and can cross sell coffee to the users of the terminal.

Soon the website will have access point locators. The company will also make SDK available to the local developers who in turn will develop for local needs.

There are more that 150 requests from different locations. As of now the company is committed in Kenya.

The privacy aspect of the portable OS

This portable lightweight operating system is easy to use and quite secure. You won’t have to worry about leaving a footprint on the host computer; passwords and sensitive data are never left behind.

The Keepod USB won’t be accessible to whoever finds the drive, in case of device loss.

Critics of Keepod

According to a blog post: “If Keepods are simply made available virtually to those who happen to hear about it, and are able to afford the $7 plus the costs of accessing internet facilities, then the potential exists to create new social divisions. People in remote communities, those who do not understand colonial languages, people with visual impairments and the very poor will be disadvantaged. Success in reducing social divides will require targeting resources and sustained capacity-building for excluded communities to ensure their effective-use of ICTs to solve their own development challenges.”

Final thoughts

This is a good use of the Sharing Economy principles. For some of us, technology is everywhere we look. But for some, it is not! To bring the next five billion people who are excluded from the information age, any amount of work that is needed is a worthy cause to be perused. Yes, we need new approach to bridge the digital divide. Keepod is not the complete answer. But it is a step in the right direction if the project execution matches the well meaning intention of the founding team.

Website : Keepod

Emmanuel Amberber

Inhales & exhale everything startups, tech, entrepreneurship, and the intersection of India & Africa. You can reach him via emmanuel[at]yourstory.com