Portable Cloud – A forgotten device from Stanford University makes it’s way to Zimbabwe

Simon to the left in picture with his team member

You might be wondering what device… Okay, let’s talk about that first. Portable Cloud is the name of the device. It is a small box packed with some capable tech inside to allow offline distribution of content. Locally, not everyone can connect to the Internet and discover new things or even learn a new skill. Due to such a problem, some Zimbabweans will always be disadvantaged and this impacts the number of innovations that people can come up with.

Portable Cloud aims to solve that problem. Anyone can get the device and upload material like learning resources. The device will then create a Wi-Fi hotspot for people to connect to and access this content. So it’s kinda like the internet without internet as the user doesn’t even have to connect to the Internet.

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The device will come in different configurations of storage capacity, RAM and processor speed. The base model going for $500. We met Simon Chigeza at the Broadband Economy Conference where he was exhibiting the device and recently got to talk to him about the device.

How did it get here?

Simon shared with me about the journey he has gone through to end up being a part of the Portable cloud team. The story starts in 2011 when he met a professor named David Katzenstein while working together.

The professor had brought a device with him which was developed by Stanford in collaboration with a tech company called Marvell. The device is called the SMILE plug. According to reports, it aims to create an interactive classroom by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot which students can connect to, access learning resources and leave questions.

Now, David had brought this device and intended to use it in education and health. Upon discovering about this device, Simon then started to learn more about it. In 2013, Simon flew to California to try and learn more about the device and meet the original developer.

From collecting dust to being reinvented…

When Simon arrived in California, he met with the original developer and asked some questions about the state of the project. From their conversations, he learned that the developer had actually abandoned the project as there was no market for it in the USA. Previously, Simon had worked as a computer science teacher and had seen first hand the gap in knowledge between schools in rural areas and those in the urban centres let alone schools from other countries.

Sometimes, students would be using the 3rd edition of a book while there was already the 8th edition. Due to this background, he then convinced the original developer that there was a use case for it back home. Simon then received 10 of the original devices and managed to sell 5 of the to University of Zimbabwe. This transaction was what gave birth to Portable Cloud.

Simon says that the original device’s capabilities were limited because of its hardware. So they started to look for manufacturers who could make one that was more tailored to their specifications. One was in California and another in China. Both of them made sample devices and they then chose one which is now the Portable Cloud.

So Portable Cloud is just a box?

Portable Cloud

The Portable Cloud is a good thing in and of itself. However, it is not a complete package. As good as it sounds to go to Rusitu Mission with the Portable Cloud loaded with learning resources, it doesn’t help if the people there don’t even have the devices to access the material. I asked Simon this question and he said that they are working on partnering with companies like Microsoft or Samsung who could provide low-cost tablets for people to access the portable cloud.

They have partnered with Khan Academy (an online learning resource) to provide learning resources that will be on the device. They are also working on a partnership with OpenEdx to do a similar thing. With over 1 669 secondary schools being owned by rural districts according to Herald and a statistic from 2012, there is potential for this device to impact a lot of people.

Schools can improve the education they provide by using such digital solutions. Let us wait and see how far this will go. Tell us what you think in the comments section.

For more information on Portable Cloud, visit this link.

13 Comments

  1. Ash says:

    Wow this is nice i would love to look deep myself n find out more about the device

    1. Simon Chigeza says:

      Thank you very much. I can be reached on the following numbers
      0715-600032
      Hope to hear from you soon

  2. Tendai Katsuwa says:

    I would rather go for the following – get an old P4 computer with a significantly large HDD ($100 in all ) – load windows 7 on it. Buy a WiFi router for about $35 . Share the required files on WiFi using free Hotspot software ($free) , share the password with your friends/ neighbours (all who can access your files) , all your chosen ones will be able to to access information or your website from their devices (cellphones included) -Total cost $135

    1. Peter G. Raeth, Ph.D. says:

      Tendai presents an interesting option. Still, the cost of Windows 7 must be included. Installing a pirated copy can not be assumed. It would be interesting if Linux could be used instead of Windows. A question: can you give a link to free hotspot software?

      In either case, I wish I’d had something like this while teaching at Chinhoyi Institute of Technology. It would have been a lot more effective and convenient for distributing course material, instead of passing a set of two DVDs around.

      Let me alert you to a series of articles I wrote that shows another way to use Tendai’s option: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ubuntu-server-remote-data-analysis-peter-raeth. This approach uses all open-source software running on a common computer.

      1. Tendai Katsuwa says:

        For Hot spot, try Ostoto which I use:
        http://www.ostoto.com/products/wifi-hotspot.html
        ————————————————
        NO ! TO PIRATED SOFTWARE

      2. Simon Chigeza says:

        Thanks for the comments. i can be reached on 0715-600032

    2. Simon Chigeza says:

      The PortableCloud offers the following solutions, Caching, Syncing, Video streaming plus many more as per user requirement. The solution runs on open source as well but it can also run Windows as a virtual machine using containers

  3. Chris Mberi says:

    Interesting indeed. I know a distinguished gentleman also working on such from ground up and has particular focus on content which can easily become a handicap of otherwise good technology. Crispen Hanyani. Great to see Zimbabwe creating solutions for themselves

    1. Simon Chigeza says:

      Would love to learn more about his project

  4. Happymore Bunu says:

    I am very exited Techzim for sharing this innovation .But the most amazing part is : I am personally working on a similar project : of bringing technology to remote/less priviledged areas with very little/NO internet access .I am innovating a Wi-Fi Hot spot web-server gadget to be installed in youth centers and remote schools

    Currently I’m doing this project by myself .Im inspired by Khan Academy and other sites .
    One day Mutare shall be on World map , due to my contribution to the globe .

    1. Simon Chigeza says:

      Thanks for the comments. I will very happy to meet with you and further discuss how we can collaborate.

  5. Tendai Katsuwa says:

    Keep up the good work. Let technology spread !

    1. Simon Chigeza says:

      Thank you so much

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