Power outages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy left many people unable to connect to the world unless they could charge batteries to power their computing devices. But imagine living in some African countries like say, Uganda, where fewer than 10 percent of the people even have electricity. While such a statistic might mean they’re unable to participate in the digital world, innovative thinking is changing that. Thanks to Asia Kamukama, a woman who first saw a computer when she was 22, a solar-powered mobile computer lab is traversing rural Uganda bringing joy and digital life to residents. In her travels, Asia Kamukama discovered that many people in rural areas did not have access to computers but they were eager to learn about digital age technology. Even more, the mobile solar computer lab has propelled young rural Africans to head out to universities to study computer science. Eventually they too can help bring their communities into the digital age.
By Western standards, where we might debate which tablet computer or eReader or smartphone is best, the mobile solar computer lab might seem rudimentary. The back seats of a Toyota Rav4 were stripped out, solar panels were added on its roof and all the trappings of low voltage computing were packed into it. At each stop, the mobile lab crew sets up a sturdy tent, collapsible desks, chairs and low wattage Netbooks with Intel’s Atom processor inside. By the time the mobile solar computer lab reaches some villages, it has navigated miles of rutted roads but the residents are eager to learn. While Asia Kumukana is the face of this innovative approach, she received help from a non-profit foundation based in Seattle. Eric Morrow, a computer programmer from Seattle also volunteers with the foundation. In the future the foundation plans to install solar-powered computer stations in libraries and community centers where more residents will be able to access them.