The educational software works really well once it’s installed, but in order to thrive, especially in low-income, geographically rough environments, we needed tough hardware. We tested several alternatives, and arrived at several hardware solutions, that when coupled with the software, offers a rugged, resilient and relevant turn-key educational solution.
The RuggedPi (previously called “PelicanPi” because of the Pelican brand case) is our maker/hacker/do-it-yourself solution. This option is for techies who want to understand the components, but once built the RuggedPi can operate rather well in even the harshest environments. However, we recommend that a techie be in relative close proximity with parts for field support.
This system is designed to provide world-class educational curriculum and resources to off-grid areas that need them the most. Completely self-contained, the system is completely battery-operated and contains material from Khan Academy, Wikipedia, The Goodwill Community Foundation, CK-12, Project Gutenberg, Hesperian and more. At approximately $299 per seat, this system is an affordable way to add an electronic library and a wealth of training material to any school, anywhere.
Based on the Raspberry Pi “Credit-card sized computer”, the RuggedPi strengthens the fragile Pi platform and offers additional features. Designed by Sam Kinch of Hackers for Charity, the RuggedPi features:
- Built-in wi-fi which serves all content wirelessly.
- An externally-mounted LED power switch. The standard Pi has no power switch, which forced hard shutdowns which can lead to a corrupt filesystem.
- An upgraded power regulation system. The standard Pi requires a constant higher voltage then the typical 500mA served by most chargers. Without this power up, wi-fi drops, the machine hangs and all sorts of problems crop up.
- AC (wall) and DC (car/solar) charging capability with a built-in solar panel.
- A 13,000mAh battery which can power the RuggedPi for more than a full school day of standard use.
- A locking, waterproof, shockproof and dust-proof Pelican© brand case.
- An external, water-tight Ethernet jack and power jack. The Pelican can be run, and even charged while closed and locked, serving wi-fi for an average of thirty feet while closed.
On the software side, we load the server with RACHEL and GCFLearnFree.org content, as well as Learning Equality’s Ka-Lite. Ka-Lite makes a huge difference in this equation because you get access to student exercises, coach reports, student tracking, suggested training pathways, lots of reporting and so much more, similar to what you find on Khan Academy, but without an Internet connection! If the Pi is connected to the Internet (via Ethernet or a 3g modem, for example) Ka-Lite will upload statistics to a centralized server, meaning you can check out student, school and even regional progress remotely.
Download the Flier or Build Guide
This setup has already started to spark interest. We donated a Loaded Chromebook and a RuggedPi to Daniel and Lisa Stern (UConnect.org) and they are traveling around East Africa (and the rest of the world) giving demos. Lisa’s one-week response was, “What happens now that we have an order for 100 units?”
Admittedly, I wasn’t ready for that response. I had thought that we, the hacker community, could built these for schools through hacker spaces and conferences, but that’s simply not practical from a fulfillment standpoint. It’s clear we need to do two key things: productize the RuggedPi through something like a kickstarter, and find a way to ship the servers and Acer C7’s to Africa without paying a fortune.
May, 2014 Update: The BRCK is now the preferred alternative to a RuggedPi in Africa. It has many of the features we designed into the RuggedPi, but it’s fulfilled in Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) and the US, making it easy to purchase and it’s easier to maintain than the RuggedPi thanks to fewer internal parts, a sealed case and a cloud interface that allows it to be remotely flashed. The RuggedPi is still a great solution, but we target it more to the hacker/maker crowd and give hands-on build demonstrations at most major hacker conferences. Attendees build their own RuggedPi’s and deploy them (and maintain them) themselves. This give the builder a great opportunity to learn about building, troubleshooting and maintaining hardware projects.
Keep an eye on our website for more information and updates, or contact us with any questions or suggestions. We’ve got a lot to do!