The $7 device is loaded with Google’s Android 4.4 operating system. Plug it into the USB port of any old laptop or desktop, and you’ve got a personal computer.
If you can put data on a USB drive, why not put an entire operating system on a stick?
It’s a simple but brilliant idea. Nissan Bahar of Israel and Francesco (Franky) Imbesi of Italy are making it happen in remote places of the world where computers aren’t a dime a dozen. They discovered that five billion people, or 70% of the world’s population, have no access to personal computing, and they intend to change that.
The $7 Keepod thumb drive is loaded with a unique version of Google’s Android 4.4 operating system. Plug it into the USB port of any old laptop, netbook or desktop, and – voila! – you’ve got a personal computer with your own password-protected settings, programs and files.
Bahar and Imbesi have introduced the Keepod (Hebrew for “porcupine” but with obvious wordplay in English) to a school in the Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya, through a partnership with the organization LiveInSlums. They use refurbished computers that would otherwise clog landfills.
“We’re breaking a few paradigms in the world of computing and digital devices,” says Bahar.
“There are a lot of initiatives for bringing computers to developing countries, but it’s impossible to bring a laptop per person. There’s not enough material in the world for that. Our approach is that instead of providing a personal computer, we use shared computers and provide a stick with an operating system on it so you have your own PC environment on a shared computer.”
He likens the model to public transport. “Not everyone can have a shiny car, so you hop on a bus.”
The other paradigm-smashing aspect of Keepod is the notion that fancier is better. Bahar maintains that using basic pre-owned computers without hard drives solves lots of cyber-security problems.
“Instead of manufacturing cheap computers — which will never be cheap enough — we reuse old computers. In the US alone, 85,000 computers are thrown out every single day. We can give a big percentage of them a new life with Keepod in Nairobi or anywhere else, and that one computer can serve 25 to 30 people every week. Why continue to manufacture cheap hardware when you have all this material available? It’s an ecosystem of ideas and things together.”
Principles ahead of profit
Bahar and Inbesi come from a background in information security and enterprise solutions.
“We started selling to banks and telecos across Europe, and then about a year ago we started to think how to leverage this technology to do something better than selling it to executives,” says the 38-year-old Israeli.