June - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature
Priya Pradeep
Thursday, May 31, 2007
At the Hewlett-Packard Labs “Future is not just a dream, you’ll invent it”. Researchers working at HP Labs India live, eat, and celebrate this company credo, to dream and invent products that matter to the vast population residing in India’s rural hinterland. India seems to be living in schizophrenic time zones… with urban India racing towards modernization, and rural India - read the real India, ambling along with problems like poor infrastructure, pathetic medical facilities, illiteracy, and more. There is palpable excitement at HP as it seeks to bridge this divide and help local businesses and households thrive with Information Technology.

In 2002 HP Labs started its operations in India to focus on the needs of emerging markets. “Cornering emerging markets which are rapidly growing segments of the global economy is an essential motivator for the labs. As the combination here is of economic liberalization and a young population, it creates unique needs to engineer challenging products and projects,” voices Ajay Gupta, Director, HP Labs India. Take for instance, a pilot e-inclusion project of the labs running at Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh. It includes a web site that offers a wide variety of community services, community resource center kiosks, communication infrastructure, and connectivity to local schools and colleges.

Script Mail in 2004 was another hand centric product from HP’s stable that gave satisfaction to the software minds that developed it. A low-cost, language-independent device, it allows people to send handwritten emails. The product has been angled to sell in places where English is not the preferred medium of communication. The device resembles a calculator, has a keyboard, a comparatively less expensive CPU, a small LCD screen, and small area for people to scribble their messages. Once written, the message is captured as an image file and shown up as an attachment to the mail. These mails are also compatible with other personal computers. Just fathom the gains for the rural folk who do not have ready access to computers or are computer illiterate.

Out of the Box
Another exciting development is the Gesture Based Keyboard (GKB), a computing tool from HP Labs India, which won a prize at the Wall Street Journal’s 2006 Technology Innovation Awards. GKB is a low-cost solution that helps users key in data with a pen. It makes life easier for people who don’t understand English or know how to type. Other prevailing Indic language entry methods use either bilingual keyboards or display the Indic keyboard layout on a monitor. With 40 keys, a digital pad and stylus, Hindi speakers write the characters. Earlier, writing Hindi using a standard computer meant a juggle between the shift and control keys. HP’s keypad avoids the problem, making Hindi composition easier.

Gupta proclaims, “This award is a recognition of HP Labs India’s commitment towards developing products that are tailored for the needs of emerging markets like India. GKB has the potential to reach over 1.5 billion non-English speaking people, including Indian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, and other phonetic script users.”

Practical Futuristic Research
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