The smell of chalk may bring back fond (or not-so-fond) memories of doing math problems in front of the class, but many children in developing nations only have access to small, erasable black slate tablets for all of their note-taking needs. To make matters worse, their teachers are often illiterate.
A team of researchers from Rice University are trying to knock out both of these problems with one invention: the I-slate. The solar-powered LED tablet uses a stylus instead of chalk and gives kids the opportunity to learn math skills without a teacher.
The I-slate, which downloads coursework from wireless networks, contains a cheap computer chip that uses 30 times less electricity than a standard chip. The key to the chip’s energy savings is its use of a probabalistic logic system that spits out rounded answers to calculations. Standard chips use ultra-precise Boolean logic.
Rice researchers are working on a math curriculum for the I-slate and plan to begin prototype testing within the year in southern Indian classrooms. Will the I-slate really be able to replace teachers? Probably not, but it’s a good supplement for teachers lacking basic math skills themselves.