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Keepod Unite: $7 PC to bridge the digital divide (indiegogo.com)
57 points by dimfisch on Jan 28, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments

I think it's just a usb stick with a bootable Linux OS on it? If so then honestly $7 is kind of expensive for that. I can get a USB stick for $5 and that's with postage from Amazon. I would think that in bulk and for charity you could get the prices down a lot more.

If you add marketing, shipping, employees etc - the cost is actually extremely low.

If you're spreading the marketing, shipping and staffing costs over n billion devices, it doesn't need to be very high.


Seriously, think about what you've just written. They're raising $38 thousand, not $38 billion.

Interesting concept, I was working with a company on a reasonably similar idea last year that was ultimately shelved in the end, but for a different target market.

You basically have to charge a reasonable amount for it, because it's not super straight forward. Sure you can buy a USB drive for $5 but it's not likely to be that great, you have to try and source drives that are reliable for a large number of R&W cycles and the really, really cheap ones generally aren't. Then you need to have a batch write process, so you can either spend time cobbling hardware together to do it or send it off to a company to do it, which costs a reasonable amount. Then marketing, then staff costs, then distribution costs. There's a lot involved in it, I'm surprised they're down so low, I'd assume they're running as nonprofit.

It's a $7 boot stick, not a PC

Better idea just give people $3 microsd cards with $1 usb adapters.

That's part of the idea, yes. But I think the big reason they need money is to source the old computers, probably do a bunch of testing to make sure they work well enough, and distribute them to their audience.

EDIT: I'm not saying this is a bulletproof plan, by any means. I just wanted to point out that there's probably a lot more to their cost structure than "flash a bunch of USB keys."

I imagine getting there is already a big part of the cost (plane ticket) and getting the equipment there (shipment). It's not like you can FedEx 500 used computers to Kenya for $10. Logistics is a horribly underestimated cost in these kind of discussions. Remember, they can't download a computer!

It's not a PC, it's a bootable USB drive. It's not going to "bridge the digital divide" as it still needs an x86 processor and a monitor.

This is a more practical approach to connecting more people to the digital universe. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aakash_(tablet) So is this. http://m.androidcentral.com/intel-introduces-yolo-android-ba...

I don't know what this company aims to do by handing people who can't afford a square meal a USB drive.... If you guys are on HN and reading this, please stop sensationalising your USB stick and make a real piece of hardware that gets people connected.

> It's not going to "bridge the digital divide" as it still needs an x86 processor and a monitor.

Cool thing is that we occidental ppl send plenty of old computers to make gigantic piles of dangerous trash in poor countries. By sending USB sticks along they might prove useful.

until those piles of usb sticks become trash too

"The $7 PC to bridge the Digital Divide and provide Personal Computing to 5 Billion people all over the World."

How is a flash drive a "PC" ?

Interesting idea, though... definitely solves the problem of people having to know a lot about security to benefit from it.

I think the idea is that because a actual computer is too expensive to give, they are buying referbs for sharing such as in a school, and giving people their own personal OS on a usb stick.

Then these people can go to school, plug it into the shared computer, and get their own experience, then take it away with them. Giving them the sense of ownership that it's their own personal computer.

It seems expensive to me too, $38k for 1 "slum".

They better be sure to make the OS partition not writable by default (and somehow lock it until update) or these things will be garbage in short order. A botnet owner could target these things and have quite the army...

I'd also love to see them get some bigger blocks of data that solve the lack of interent. Eg: 4GB wikipedia download, CC image packs, khan academy videos (K-12?) those sorts of things.

The misleading title will hurt.

Oddly I'm sure you can have a cheap computer that would connect to a TV, something like a raspberry pi.

What about the internet ? I doubt that project will connect people to the internet.

And why are we talking about giving the internet to poor countries, what's the real benefit ? What a stupid charity. Internet infrastructures have a cost, and this project is not about financing that.

And are you sure most refurbished computers can boot from USB anyway ?

You could present this minimal OS USB stuff to anyone and they would say "meeeh", but wow, for a poor fella, now it's genius ? And how do you educate people about how it works ? Good luck.

It's misleading because it's a money-grab. They make it seem like they're helping those ever-so-poor Africans by giving them computers, when in reality they're probably not even planning to slap Linux on USB sticks and actually get them to the people their contributors think they're helping.

Last year it was a card with nfc, hardware encryption and usb: https://www.google.com/search?q=keepod+card

You could also download the software back then: http://keepod.com/keepod-os-12-4-cave-man-is-released/

Call me speculative of everything I see on the net, but I see many things in this high production ad that would hold me back from contributing (and I have donated money before).

1. Wouldn't it be more cost effective to run livecd's or even cloud host an os?

2. Refurbished computers are still needed for this campaign, seems expensive.

3. $7 does NOT equal a computer, it's a usb stick which end users will still need to utilize only the refurbished computers, because I can't name one "non-tech-savvy," person that knows how to change boot orders in the bios (let alone get to the bios at startup).

I think you're right to be critical. This doesn't seem like a perfect idea. Still, some counters to your points:

1. CD's would probably be more inexpensive to produce, but they are much more vulnerable to damage and destruction. Additionally, with a USB drive, the user can save data that will persist from computer to computer, which makes the idea more tolerant to the use of unreliable recycled computers. Hosting a cloud OS would introduce a pretty major dependency on network connectivity, which I can understand them trying to avoid when their focus seems to be on developing nations.

2. That can be expensive, but you might be surprised how many recycled electronics simply end up in these developing countries. These costs might also be why the price of "just a live USB drive" is as high as $7.

3. Again, the USB drive itself probably won't cost $7, so that supporting infrastructure might be included in that price. Unfortunately, it will be up to those running this campaign to provide full answers on that. I'll admit that I'm just speculating myself.

Is the voiceover on that video computer synthesised speech? If so it must be the best I've ever heard...

I thought the same thing, though i'm quite sure it is a human speaking.

OK, bootable USB OS. Considering it's for 10 digits of people at the bottom of the technological learning curve on little more than trashed hardware, how confident are they that each copy WILL work on any/all combination of host hardware & users?

This seems the kind of thing has a very high "fiddle factor": gotta fiddle around to make it work, something hardcore geeks love but few other can get anywhere with.

Since they're providing the shared recycled PCs it will run on, they can in fact test it before it's in the field.

I remember Keepod a few years ago, back then they were trying to market these same devices to developers and security enthusiasts. I always thought that Keepod was more compelling for emerging markets. Glad to see them pivot.

Is there a history of recycled PCs being obtainable and maintainable in this setting? Is the real initial cost significantly below the alternative: The $50 smartphone? How about the lifecycle cost? How long with those PCs last compared to a new smartphone?

If only it were so easy as just making these cute little computers, dropping them off in some slum with no supporting infrastructure, and saying "Good luck!"...

And that spiky-haired mascot...could you make a more loathsome looking thing?

>If only it were so easy as just making these cute little computers, dropping them off in some slum with no supporting infrastructure, and saying "Good luck!"...

Actually, people have had great success doing exactly that:


> And that spiky-haired mascot...

"Keepod" means "porcupine" in Hebrew, hence the mascot. The narrator even pronounces it correctly in the video.

How is this different to a normal install of Linux on a flash drive plus recycled PCs, exactly? The page is full of talk about how they're doing great things, but no real info on what the device actually is.

Pretty sure that's what the device really is. The project is more about the distribution of marketing of it.

Many small linux OSes have had this idea in mind for creating a portable Linux OS.

The problem with this idea is not that they can't access all those old (sometimes broken) PCs that are exported from the first world. The problem is electricity.

Even though it is easy to complain, kudos to you guys for at least trying to do something instead of seeing the rest of us complain about the flaws in your idea.

If I could help, I would suggest a Raspberry Pi alternative pocket PC. Super low electricity consumption and some non-grid way to charge it.

Remember there are huge logistical costs in getting the refurbished pc out there as well. So $7 seems reasonable as they will get the USB drives for maybe $2 at scale, there are other costs involved in overhead.

I wonder if you guys would be more likely to support this if it included a buy one give one model. I.e. $20 gets you your own keeps as well as sends someone one?

Also wondering how they plan to address the problem of users losing their USB sticks or mistakenly swapping them with others, and the security of the personal data. Assuming the sticks will use encryption to store personal data. In which case, how do you handle restoring an encrypted partition when users forget their password, etc.

Why would you assume that? These are people who might be using their own computer for the first time ever. Do you really think they are going to jump straight to the point where they are storing valuable, sensitive information on there? Moreover, they appear to be extremely poor, and therefore poor targets for digital thieves.

No encryption and the problem is solved.

I agree most of these users would not worry about the security of their personal data. But privacy may be more relevant - for example if they are keeping a private journal . In any case, the software does encrypt and password protect the data: From their FAQ page : ( http://keepod.com/portfolio/unite/ )

The OS pre-boot encrypted and protected by strong password policy.


Without the having backed up the data, the consequence is similar to losing a computer. However, the costs resolving of this mishap are much lower. On the bright side, no one else will have access to this data because of the high security standards.

Great idea and mission - kudos to the founders to try to make it a reality. However, there are some challenges : a) Illiteracy and training the users. Although here the unexpected results of the "hole-in-the-wall" experiment of Sugata Mitra - where kids in slums basically taught themselves computers with no supervision [1] may be the model that needs to be followed. b) Access to electricity to run these computers in the poorest regions of the world c) Not every old PC has a USB 2.0 port - so if there was a way to bridge the gap, it would increase the available supply of old PCs.

[1] http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_t... Edit: spelling and links

USB 2.0 is from 2000, pretty sure every computer 10 years old or younger would have it. I'll bet most computers that get tossed are less than 10 years old, and that there are plenty of 4 to 10 years old computers around.

I'd consider contributing if this was a registered charity. It doesn't make sense to 'donate' to a limited company whose owners will see my money returned in the dividends. Crowdfunding in this way makes me sick to my stomach. They will be laughing all the way to the bank.

I'm seeing a $7 bootable USB stick with the potential for religious NGO/NPOs to install religious bloatware and try to indoctrinate entire communities.

Maybe I'm just too cynical...

Yes, freedom to spread your ideas sure does suck.

Why don't you just install the os on the refurbished pcs when you distribute them? Am I missing something? What is the point of the USB stick?

Teaching people the world over how to spam the F12 key to get to the alternate boot menu.

hmm - this seems like yet another case of misdirected technological benevolence...

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