If we keep aside all the mudslinging and the debacle of Aakash 1, then we can truly appreciate the efforts being made to make Aakash 2 ideal tablet for teachers and students. Rajesh Kushalkar, Project Manager – Aakash project at IIT Bombay, is quite optimistic and confident about the capabilities of the tablet. He says that it’s not fair to compare the two and write off Aakash 2, as it is superior and also stable. He says, “Aakash 2 is a full fledged tablet. In terms of specifications, it is far better than Aakash 1, with superior touchscreen, quicker processor, better RAM and a higher version of OS. This makes the tablet stable than Akash 1.” 

IIT Bombay’s focus is purely on making Aakash 2 beneficial for students and with that in mind, they have been striving to develop the app ecosystem. We spoke to Prof Rajesh during the Techfest, where the demonstration of Aakash tablet was being conducted. He said they were looking for feedback from people. In his words, “We are looking for more feedback from people to know how to improvise the application or to get more feedback on what kind of applications can we have on the tablet. Because right now whatever 5-6 applications that we have developed will be ported by default to the Aakash devices that will be shipped. When we receive more feedback on how we can improve on these applications that are there, or get ideas for new applications that can be developed or are already available and will benefit the students, then we can include those on the tablet as well. So Aakash 2 is more concentrated on education part only. The tablets that have been shipped to the various colleges have these applications and they will be used from the coming semester. And the feedback that we have received so far from the teachers who have used the tablet has been positive and encouraging.”

He takes us through the apps that have been developed for the tablet.  

ProxiMITY app
ProxiMITY, which stands for Proxy Multimedia Integration Tool for You, is a tool developed by IIT Bombay that allows creating interactive lessons by importing lecture video and presentation slides. It is a tool for offline lectures that are recorded and available.This novel method of interactive lessons has been made available for Aakash 2 users in the form of an app. The ProxyMITY team has developed the app for accessing lessons directly via Aakash so that students will get access to quality lectures by reputed teachers as well as other content generated or created. This adds flexibility of listening to the lecture whenever one requires the need. There are two versions of the app – ProXimity and ProXimity Wi-Fi. So, ProXimity is a tool that can take data from your SD card or pen drive while the Proximity Wi-Fi lets you stream the lecture over the server. Rajesh Kushalkar points out that there is more to it than just streaming and viewing videos. He explains that the bookmark feature allows you to bookmark things that you feel are important so that you can view them later. Individual students who are viewing the videos can have their individual bookmarks. He also tells us that all the videos are indexed so you can directly move to a part of the video.

Offline lecture

Offline lecture

“All ProxiMITY videos are indexed. Right now, what happens is that we have a one hour lecture and I don’t want to view the entire lecture, I just want to access a part that I am confused or have doubts about. The only way to go about that is scroll the video back and forth till you find the required portion in the video. But with Proximity, what we have done is that there is an index and you can directly jump to that particular topic within the video. So it saves you the time of sliding and hunting for a particular topic. And imagine if I have downloaded an entire 40 hour course and suppose from that I want to access specific part only, the index will help as they can directly go to the particular topic. It’s similar to a book where, if I don’t want to read the entire thousand pages, I can browse the index and access the particular chapter. So, we are trying to put similar concept in videos as well. So we have developed a tool with the help of which we can tag the videos, where it will generate tags for every slide of the video,” he adds.      

Clicker app
Clicker tools are quite famous for audience response. They are being implemented in colleges in the US to get quick response from students, and who will forget the janata poll using Clicker in Kaun Banega Crorepati. Prof Deepak Phatak, Head, Aakash 2 project, has been implementing this this tool in his class. This tool allows the teacher to immediately get the feedback of what’s happening in the class. Prof Kushalkar explains that teachers give lecturers and move towards another topic assuming that the student has understood the bit. In fact, some students shy away from asking questions and doubts keep accumulating. This app will help get quick feedback from students about the topic that has been taught in the class. Moreover, the “Rasie Hand” feature allows shy students to ask questions without having to actually ask the question out aloud in the class; they can instead just use the Raise the hand feature to type their question and send it. This app can be used to conduct quick quizzes and the responses of each student can be viewed individually and also in the form of an overall graph of all students who participated.

“The students can see questions of the quizz on their Aakash 2 tablets; they can answer it and immediately the answers are collected. I get a graph displaying how many of them gave correct answer and how many of them gave wrong answer. So based on the results, I can take a decision as to whether I should move on to the next topic or go back to clarify some points, if I see that most of the students have got something wrong. It’s a very effective tool. The results that are generated are also very useful and elaborate, as we have access to data for all the quizzes conducted on basis of which we can analyse individual student performance,” adds Rajesh Kushalkar.

Robo app
The IIT Team has developed a control application that runs on Aakash 2. Using this application, a robot mounted with a camera can be controlled. Aakash 2 controls the robot over Wi-Fi. Students can control the movement of the robot using a simulated touch-controlled joystick provided on the tablet. Similarly, the video stream that is captured by the camera of the robot is transmitted to Aakash and can be viewed on its screen. Further development can allow enhanced control over remote devices.

Robo controlled using Aakash 2, demonstrated last year

Robot controlled using Aakash 2

Rajesh Kushalkar tell us, “Prof Phatak had demonstrated the robo app while he was in Canada and the U.S. From there they could view the videos being captured by the robot here at IIT Bombay. So, irrespective of the space or place, you can control the robot. Students can use such a control system for any other application as well.”         

Linux on Aakash
Aakash project at IIT Bombay is also focussing on the ‘computer’ aspect of the tablet. The native Android environment is not meant to support the use of compilers for different programming languages. However, the team from FOSSE project has succeeded in building a tailored Linux environment on top of the Android OS provided in Aakash.

“We have ported full fledged Linux on Aakash. So right now the Linux is working through the SD card. So you can just insert your SD card and reboot your Aakash tablet; it will boot through the SD card and you can work on Linux. You can run all the programs like Open Office etc. it also has a virtual keyboard, so you can enjoy the closest to the desktop environment,” says the IITB teacher.

Programming tool           
The team at IIT has also ported C, C++ libraries on the Aakash tablet. The programming interface permits a student to write and execute programs in C and C++ directly on the Aakash tablet. The popular Python programming system has also been ported, allowing students to write and execute Python scripts directly. The team has also ported Scilab package, which is an open source equivalent of Matlab, on Aakash. Matlab is extensively used by scientists and engineers.

Rajesh Kushalkar tells that this will be extremely beneficial for students as they can hone their programming skills whenever they get free time and don't have to be dependent on the availability of the computer labs. “Students have to go to the computer lab for a limited hour session for their programming. But now we have made available the programming environment on the 7-inch tablet, which has been divided into two parts. On one part, you can type your code and then there is an output screen where you will see the result. So students won’t have to go to the lab. Aakash tablet is sufficient to do this basic programming.”

Aakash 2

The Aakash 2

All these apps are being tested on the Aakash 2. He also tells us that there weren't too many issues and even Linux functions effortlessly. While these apps are being built for the Aakash project, they can be used on other tablets too. “The other apps like the Proximity, Clicker etc. are all APK, which can be ported to any tablet easily. But the programming language and Linux have been ported only to Aakash. We did face challenges. First, they require a certain hardware specifications and then we had to write a particular driver for it. so we had to create all that,” he says.

While Aakash 2 is shaping up to be a good tool for training purposes for both students and teachers, let's see when it reaches the market.

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