One company’s fanless, low-power, Intel-based PCs take education and healthcare to new heights in rural Africa.
In 2006, Mike Rosenberg traveled to Ghana as a volunteer to help set up a computer classroom for street children. But the hardware he had to work with wasn’t fit for the job.
The secondhand desktop computers were expensive to run and often failed. Fans clogged with dust, hard drives broke down and power came in spurts.
Rosenberg needed computers that could hold up to extreme heat and dust, work in places where electricity wasn’t available, and didn’t require a lot of maintenance or part replacement. So he set out to do something about it.
He founded Aleutia, and a year later, released the company’s first fanless, energy-efficient computer. The company’s T1 mini PCs are built with dual-core Intel Celeron processors that offer great performance, require little power and produce very little heat.
“We make computers that can operate anywhere and use so little power they can affordably run on solar,” said Rosenberg.
Aleutia’s low-power PCs are designed without moving parts — think solid-state drives that don’t spin and have no fans to clog with dust during the dry season.
The first customer to use the rugged solar-powered Intel-based PCs was a remote school in Ecuador. Today, Aleutia has deployed projects in more than 65 countries and is helping villages in Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and elsewhere bridge the digital divide.
Approximately 43 percent of the world’s out-of-school children live in Africa, and about 38 percent of adults living in sub-Saharan Africa lack basic literacy skills, according to the United Nations.
This lack of education can lead to severe societal challenges.
In Ghana, Aleutia has helped transform the quality of education for more than 30,000 girls in rural schools, using solar computers and satellite connectivity to provide interactive distance learning in local languages.
Easier access to digital resources that have been downloaded onto a drive give educators more tools that don’t require an Internet connection.
Computers in Africa
According to the Pew Research Center, African nations significantly lag behind other countries in regular computer use. In Kenya, for example, only 12 percent of people use a computer at least occasionally, compared with 80 percent in the U.S.
“Computers in the classroom can help level the playing field by opening a world of previously inaccessible information to schoolchildren and, in the long term, introduce new economic opportunities to developing nations,” Rosenberg said.
“They can also leapfrog pen-and-paper records in clinics by introducing an electronic health record (EHR) system, created by Aleutia, for clinicians and patients that transforms the quality of primary care.”
In places like rural Africa, this is particularly significant. While computer use in Africa overall is relatively low, rural communities face additional unique challenges, such as remote locations and scarce technical support.
Bringing Healthcare to the People
EHRs give healthcare organizations a way to improve patient care and safety — for example, by reducing prescription errors and flagging abnormal results — and can also lower the cost of providing care.
But one recent study shows the region has many barriers to overcome before EHRs are widely used.
In addition to the high cost to set up and maintain systems, poor network infrastructure, and a lack of familiarity with systems, keeping accurate medical records is especially hard in communities where people have never been issued formal identification.
That’s why Aleutia works with clinics to create simple patient registration software that’s optimized to run on the PCs.
“Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, EHRs are a crucial part of advancing healthcare by enabling clinical workers and government to see what is happening on the ground and to track and contain outbreaks like Ebola,” adds Rosenberg.
Aleutia also uses diagnostic software that helps medical staff quickly identify symptoms and offer treatment, even if the staff lacks prior computer experience.
Clinics can share data with government systems via 3G or GPRS wireless, or even provide medical ID cards — the first official ID many patients have had.
Real-time information sharing is about more than keeping records; it also means government organizations can better track disease outbreaks and reach communities to provide the help they need.
In addition to its PCs, Aleutia has engineered Solar Classroom in a Box, Solar eClinic Software and Cloud Databases to further address Africa’s unique challenges. A Solar Container eClinic is also in the works.
These preconfigured solutions include everything needed to quickly deploy a system to power Aleutia’s PCs, including solar panels, charge controllers, cables, batteries, servers, projectors, port switches and satellite connectivity.
They fit in the back of a pickup truck and can be installed by a local handyman in a day.
The classrooms and clinics can even be constructed from low-cost, highly available shipping containers.
Rosenberg emphasizes that as technology evolves, it becomes easier for Aleutia to bring its solutions to developing countries.
“In off-grid areas that depend on solar power, every watt counts,” he said. “Intel has helped our efforts by pushing down power consumption and increasing performance with each generation of processors.”
Rosenberg sums up his company’s mission statement in very simple terms: Continuing advancements in hardware design, solar technology and connectivity to bring a better quality of life to people all over the world.
And Aleutia’s efforts to overcome technology challenges in rural Africa are just the first step in transforming healthcare and education one rural landscape at a time.
Aleutia and Intel are both exploring how the latest technologies can benefit underserved communities. Intel Education works closely with partners to find solutions that transform the classroom and inspire student success.
“Intel is excited to play a part in empowering people to bring these customized, innovative solutions to market so we can better prepare students for the future,” said Raju Doshi, global marketing manager for Intel Education.