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U of T engineering alumnus is engineering social change

Creates $50 tablet PC to give computer access to world's poor

Engineering alumnus Suneet Tuli has created an inexpensive tablet PC that will empower some of the world's poorest people. (Engineering photo)

U of T Engineering graduate Suneet Tuli has a vision: to make computer technology available to people around the world, including some of the poorest.

The CEO of DataWind, a company that develops wireless web access products and services, seeks to empower millions in India with an inexpensive tablet PC: the Aakash. Retailing at less than $50, the tablet delivers the benefits of modern technology and the potential to bridge the digital divide in India and around the world.

Tuli returned to his alma mater recently to speak with students and faculty about creating the Aakash and how technology, made broadly accessible, can enhance welfare and bring social change.

“The world needs inexpensive computing and Internet access. Tablets become the de-facto form factor for that,” Tuli explained.

By using inexpensive hardware and technology that utilizes cellular phone networks for Internet access, his company was able to create a device “that would be affordable within a week’s salary [in India], which is C$50.”

“And how important is affordability?” Tuli asked the crowd. “In my opinion, the floodgates have opened. The next billion Internet users are coming. And with that, you are going to get innovation you’ve never seen before.”

Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, said  she was honoured to have Tuli return to U of T.

“It is a story that is quite familiar in our Faculty.," she said. "Inspired by a culture of innovation at U of T, he is now an engineer innovating and changing the world.”

As Tuli explained, launching an inexpensive tablet in India required problem solving on every level.

“The important things I learned at U of T are problem-solving and thinking outside the box,” Tuli said.

The event, which drew a large crowd to the Sandford Fleming Building, was hosted by the Indian Innovation Institute at the Rotman School of Management, Munk School of Global Affairs and the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

Watch the full lecture.