Making IT simple

City researcher tries to make technology reach the non-literate

Making IT simple

Indrani Medhi helps a woman  to use computer.  dh photo

That's the question Indrani Medhi, Associate Researcher at Microsoft Research India, asked herself, and came up with an interesting solution. A design interface that is text-free.

Innovator

And what's more, this 31-year-old features in Technology Review's TR35, the prestigious list of 20 Indian innovators under the age of 35.

At a time when technology research is still a largely male-dominated space, young Medhi is the only woman to receive the honour at EmTech 2010, a two-day conference on emerging technologies to begin in the City today.

No exposure to technology

A student of design, Medhi has applied a few principles: extensive use of hand-drawn, semi-abstracted cartoons with voice annotations in the local language, and looping video that dramatises the purpose and mechanism of the application.

She evolved the design after involving over 400 women from low-income, low-literate communities across India, the Philippines and South Africa.

"We faced a lot of challenges. There were many households where the mobile phone was still operated by the men of the house. Women's exposure to technology is still very low in many households. But, during our interaction with them, we found some women who were really confident using technology as well," she explains.

Honour

So, how does it feel to be receiving the honours on International Women's Day?
"I have mixed feelings. I am happy to be on the list, but I wish there were more women," she says, adding, "I wish more women would choose to take up research."

Medhi explains that pilot projects in various domains have been taken up in Bangalore and Coimbatore, and is keen on exploring ways in which the technology can be taken forward.

She has used her text-free interface in four applications including a job search for the informal market, a mobile money transfer system and an electronic map.

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