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.


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.

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