Entrepreneurs, nonprofits and governments have tried for years to come up with a plausible way to bridge the digital divide, the gap between communities with access to digital technology and those without.
One project, however, which has evolved over the past 14 years, stands out as a sort of hybrid not quite solving the digital divide, but getting people access faster. It’s a microchip that taps into the power of smartphones, laptops and tablets to deliver offline information and educational resources to billions of people.
The best way to describe it is “Internet in a box,” and soon, it might just become “Internet on a microchip.”
The WiderNet Project, based at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is developing the eGranary Pocket Library. It’s a microchip that taps into the power of smartphones, laptops and tablets to deliver offline information and educational resources to billions of people.
Now, the project has launched a $120,000 Indiegogo campaign to take its creation even further.
The microchip is a streamlined version of the eGranary Digital Library, which essentially offers an offline imitation of the Internet, via hard drive, to the two-thirds of the world without access.
Since 2001, WiderNet has worked with thousands of publishers, such as Wikipedia, Khan Academy and Project Gutenberg, to copy website content into an offline, searchable database. It currently amounts to about 32 million documents on a 4 terabyte hard drive — all accessible without an Internet connection.
There are more than 1,000 installations and millions of users of eGranary around the world. Users access the information through a proxy server on a standard web browser — it looks and acts exactly like the Internet.
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