Last year, a unique new educational device was tested with a group of school children. The device was the I-slate, an ultra-low-cost tablet computer that is being developed by the Institute for Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics (ISAID), a joint venture of Houston's Rice University and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. The 10 to 13 year-old children were students at a rural school near Hyderabad, India. The tablet is designed for use in such impoverished schools, as each unit is expected to sell for less than US$50, and future models will run on solar power. Now that the field tests are complete and the results have been analyzed, the I-slate is set to go into full production.

The present version of the I-slate is powered by a traditional battery. Thanks to an extremely low-power chip created by project leader Krishna Palem, however, the tablet should ultimately receive all its power from built-in solar cells, much like those currently used by calculators. Such a feature is of vital importance, if the I-slate is to be used in locations where electricity is sporadic at best.

Along with the tablet itself, ISAID has also been developing the educational software that will run on it - because of the relatively low amount of power provided by the solar cells, not just any programs can be used. In the 2010 trials, students' math skills were appraised before and after a period of using a mathematics program, that provided students with feedback and tips regarding wrong answers. According to Palem, the tests confirmed that the I-slate was effective.

Utilizing data from such tests along with direct feedback from the students, lessons for mathematics, science and social studies have been created, and will come preloaded on each tablet. There are also plans for social-networking software, which will allow students to collaborate on writing projects.

A production version of Palem's chip is currently in development, and should be appearing in the first solar-powered I-slates by the middle of 2012. In the meantime, approximately 50 battery-powered I-slates equipped with the new-and-improved software will be heading to India for finessing.

There is no word on when - or if - the I-slate might become available to consumers in First World countries.

The following video provides an overview of the project.

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