Friday, 14 May 2010


After the Bristol team left, I was apprehensive about the usage due to long summer break, but some of the children are regular users now, spending around two hours at a stretch. The initial fascination with the interactive table, at the Radico center, has become an addiction for these kids. Every morning, around 7.30 I get calls from them to confirm participation, followed by calls from their parents to cross check the "story". Whenever these groups walk in, they have 1 or 2 new members. With no adults or cameras around, they are more confident and vocal.
BTW we need to figure out an alternative for the alt+F.
Going forward, we will be organising a workshop for the content creation. Shifted the other table to the NIIT University today and next week onwards children from neighbouring villages will get exposure to these tables.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Parting ways...

A quick rundown of the week past:

Sunday: Mark calls in sick. It’s either the heat or the Delhi-Belly infamous for bringing down the most seasoned traveller. The team from HiWel promises to have substantial work done during the day while we stay put at the hotel.

Monday: Surprise surprise. The team did a great job on Sunday getting stuff assembled. We have gotten to the point where one table has taken shape and the other one needs minor tweaks. But then trouble strikes. The table meant for Radico seems to misbehave. After a lot of tweaking, it started working again. The app still kept on giving us trouble by hanging in an unpredictable pattern.

Tuesday: Mark is back in action. He’s going to run the Vasant Valley table while I try to figure out stuff at Radico. No luck in resolving that. Still we manage to get the experiment going with a few groups after finding a minor workaround.

Wednesday: The media crew visit gets postponed and we continue running the experiments. The time we spent writing an Object-oriented piece of code for pantographs paid off handsomely. We went with the app meant to be used by four people. And we got groups of six. This meant we needed two more added in a hurry. Luckily, we managed to do that in under 30 minutes and the app went on purring nicely with 6 pantographs to boot.

Thursday: Same as Wednesday, nothing new. The workaround for the software issue is keeping us going. A concrete solution eludes us still.

Friday: A visit to the British High Commissioner’s home for a presentation and a meeting. The media crew turns up too. It’s the Telegraph and the article should feature sometime next month. We extract all the data from the machines and bid farewell to the students and the schools. It is time to head home.

Overall it has been a hard and long week. And an interesting experience overall. After having struggled over seemingly insurmountable odds triggered by strange behaviour of application and hardware, we are ready to call it a day. We have enough data to get some understanding related to the objectives we had started out with. But we are going back with more than just data. We are going back with a huge treasure trove of experience that is almost impossible to fix a price-tag to. We interacted with students from entirely different backgrounds. From confident technology savvy children for whom the system seemed to be too slow, to underprivileged yet unbelievably motivated children who asked us if there were more applications than the ones we had carried with us. The experience ranged from students who were more interested in how it works and what was the big picture in which this system fit to others who were just ready to wait hours for a chance to touch what was clearly a new and exciting mode of collaborative learning. We realized how hard something ubiquitous as a laptop or a touch phone is to come by for some of the students from Radico center. We were floored by their determination to master the technologies in whatever limited form they are available to them. In light of what they have to deal with, our troubles with the app and hardware seemed small and insignificant.

I feel whatever we did in Delhi for the last whole week is just the beginning. It is a small milestone in the journey which started off as an idea for HiWel, and which we joined in our quest to answer fundamental questions about communication around technology like the multi-touch table. I feel we will find more avenues to partner and advance the things we have set in motion here. So while it is not the end of our journey, it is definitely time to say, “This is Delhi, Signing off!”

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


After the very long day that was Saturday, we had Sunday off to recover.

Monday was mostly spent doing the final setup of the tables at both Vassant Valley and the Radico centre. We found some issues with running the projectors in the (~40 degree) Indian heat. When run in a room without air conditioning the projectors would shortly switch themselves off. So we needed aircon.

In Vassant Valley this meant moving the table to another room down the hall. In Radico centre the aircon just had to be turned on, which I am told then caused a certain amount of smoke and flames! Thankfully nobody was hurt and there was no damage.

Along with the heat problem, we also found that we had issues with the amount of natural sunlight getting to the table in Vassant Valley. Once the windows were blocked things were fine though.

Tuesday and Wednesday have been spent having groups of children using both tables. We seem to manage about 5-6 groups per table per day, so they are taking lots of punishment. Things seem to be holding up well though, with no hardware failures yet.

This amount of use has shown a couple of issues that we will have to deal with though. The projectors emit a very bright infrared light that shows up as a small blob in CCV. So its as though someone's finger is there all the time. The slightest pressure anywhere on the table top can cause a false touch detection above this point. We have temporarily blocked it with a piece of compliant surface stuck to the underside of the tabletop at exactly the spot, which seems to work well at eliminating it, even if it is a bit of a hack.

Secondly, we are having some problems with the system freezing up. At certain points the Flash program just stops displaying updates. It is still registering touches and reacting to them, the users just can't see them. Moving the program out of and back into fullscreen fixes it, but it's not exactly a viable long term solution. So, there's some definite debugging to be done.

As for the children themselves, the ones I've dealt with (all at Vassant Valley) really seem to like the system. They have also made some excellent suggestions and comments on the system and some seem to be interested in finding out more about the overall project. So, this is excellent from our point of view. Although we will have to wait until we are back home to analyse the usage data we've gathered and see what conclusions we can draw.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A really long day on Saturday

We had a really long day on Saturday. We all met for breakfast at 6:30 am and arrived at NIIT at 7:45am.

We finished assembling the mechanical parts for first table by around 9:30am - thanks to the dedication of Mark who worked hard in the Delhi heat. The AC was ON in our room but it took a long time for it to become effective.

I made a mistake in the number of LEDs that we ordered - forgot that we were assembling 2 tables and had only ordered enough for 1.  So we had to rely on some creative soldering from Abe to stretch the number of LEDS to fit both tables.

At about 11:30 I left with Swati to visit the Vasant Valley School. It was a long 1 hr drive to the school. The school clearly caters to a very different market segment with its huge and well kept grounds, good computing facilities and a biotechnology lab (for a school?).

We showed our photosynthesis application (thanks to an earlier post by Izzy) to the school teachers to get their opinion on the topic and find out the student level for appropriate for our content. After looking at the content the teachers felt that students from Standard 9 would be appropriate for our content. This is interesting because the content was designed for keystage 3 in UK and it seemed to fit more Standard 10 students from Radico Center government school - so there are perhaps some differences in learning outcomes across different countries and types of schools.

We got back to NIIT at about 2:00 pm ready to dig into our long overdue lunch. None of us had eaten since 7:30 am. But the first set of students from the nearby school had came-by to  trial our system and software further adding to our lunch delay. But the students tested our system well and helped us identify some bugs that need fixing.

It was interesting to observe the students. Initially they were quite shy and scared of touching the table but after about 4 to 8 mins they got comfortable using the table and were more focused on discussing roots, stomata and photosynthesis. So it looked like students are able to effectively engage with our application and system.

By about 4pm Mark was clearly exhausted from the work and was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. He left NIIT to head back to the hotel while the rest of us stayed on. We did some further testing of the system and tried to minimize the number of false detection of finger touches. There seem to be some issues with the brightness (& spectral spread of the lamplight) of the projector that is affecting the camera's detection.
We finally decided at 7pm that things are not too bad after a bit of tweaking and that we should sort things on Monday.

Our goal now is to look into putting the tables in the two schools by around Monday afternoon. The first table is ready to be installed but we need some Aluminium Ls to cover the Led wires before letting students work with it.

We (all except Mark) went to Essex Farm (appropriate given we've just come from Bristol :)) for dinner at about 8:00 pm and were back in the hotel by about 10:pm.

It was a really long day all of us were busy fighting various issues from 8:00 am to 7:30pm.

I hope we can install the tables in the two schools on Monday.