Challenges Bulletin Board

Find all the challenges listed here, with their point contacts alongside.

Challenge Title

Point Contact(s)

Elections 2013-2014: Can we bring voters to a consensus? Arpit
Cottage Industries in India Arpit
Teenage Menstrual Health Ayna
World Bank – Open Data Challenges for India Maruti Pranav
The Parishudh Sanitation Initiative Pranav
Education: The Aakash Tablet Pranav Charu
Ubuntu at Work: Skill-building and Self-help Community Organization Preeyanka Tanvi
Akshaya Patra: Mid-day Meal Program for Children Raghu Rajiv
Constitution of India – Bring It Alive Raghu
Food Security Bill Raghu
Healing Fields Foundation Raghu
Swaniti Initiative Roshan
Private Secure Website for Victims of Sexual Assault Roshan
Education: A Planning Tool for School District Monitoring Roshan Pranav
Food Security: The Public Distribution System Roshan
Hardware: The Agriculture Sensor Network Subhasis Pranav
Keep India Beautiful Thomas
Archive of Indian Music Vaibhav Pranav

Hardware: The Agriculture Sensor Network


The Definitive Soil Sensor

India lags behind many countries in terms of per area production of crops, and one of the major costs for farming is purchasing fertilizers, electricity for irrigation and seeds. However, till now farmers have no way of directly using the remote sensing data collected by the government. Here are some proposals for providing farmers access to this data and recommendations based on the data. Moreover, accurate data on soil nutrient content, moisture, temperature etc. is also difficult to obtain based on remote sensing measurements alone. With companies such as Soil IQ ( bringing sunlight powered soil sensors for as little as $25, thsi project tries to find ways to stream this data to the remote sensing satellites and to the farmers. A few thoughts about this:

  1. Displaying NPK and moisture level on the device itself by some simple technique such as LCD or e-ink, which can then be cross-referenced by the farmer on some chart made available at every seed distribution center so as to know amount of fertilizer, best crop etc. This is important since the farmer should be able to access this data even in absence of a central body analyzing the data.

  2. For uploading the data to a central body, there are the following options:

    1. Uploading the data via mobile network channels e.g. via SMS. May be difficult to support in a rugged device. If there is significant mobile network coverage in agricultural fields, this can be feasible.

    2. Uploading data via sensor network of multiple sensors which ultimately forward the data to a base station. Not viable in absence of large density of sensors.

    3. Beacon signal (via IR emission or radio) which can be captured by orbiting satellites. This can be done completely without any infrastructure support provided the IR emission is tuned at the reception frequency of the satellite. In order to avoid interference from sunlight reflection in daytime, one can also beam the signal at night. This can be very efficient provided the required light intensity is not high.

  3. Once uploaded, this data can be analyzed to generate trends and more accurate predictions for the farmers. This can then be sent to the farmers by

    1. SMS, but illiteracy and low mobile penetration will be a problem here

    2. postal mail, with picturised icons for easy comprehensibility.

Ubuntu at Work: Skill-building and Self-help Community Organization


Ubuntu at Work is a social enterprise that helps women micro entrepreneurs around the world.  Many of the women micro entrepreneurs that they collaborate with have no craft skills or other marketable skills before they join the Ubuntu at Work community.  With the assistance of field staff and volunteers around the world, the Ubuntu team works with women to gain new capabilities, collaboratively develop green products and assist in marketing these products around the world.  These products include organic fiber bags, organic produce, embroidered fabric items and screen printed items.

A unique aspect of Ubuntu at Work is that a significant portion of their products are sold through high volume orders through retailers.  They are known for producing bags for duty-free shops at several Indian aiports including the Bengaluru airport.



About Ubuntu at Work:

Ubuntu At Work’s Facebook page:



1.  Stronger platform for community engagement:  Ubuntu at Work is constantly striving to connect to more volunteers and interested members of the community.  They want blog posts to spark conversations.  To facilitate engagement, they have online volunteering activities that can be done via computer.  They are also looking to increase college student group engagement with the organization and develop systems to connect women micro entrepreneurs with mentors in a manner that is easy for all users.

Ubuntu At Work would like an app for their organization centered around community building.  At this time, the Ubuntu website is set up to enable interested parties to sign up and participate in “point-earning” tasks.  The final app does not have to use the point system to spark development.  However, it will ultimately facilitate the following objectives and allow for more people to engage with Ubuntu at Work and its network of women micro entrepreneurs.

Community Building Challenges:

  • Engage more people in online volunteering tasks

  • Encourage people to participate in blog post driven dialogues

  • Attract student groups to develop volunteer projects with Ubuntu at Work

  • Develop a platform for engage returned volunteers (e.g. Peace Corps, Americorps, Indicorps, WorldTeach) to develop long-term online-based mentoring relationships with women micro entrepreneurs.


Current Online Volunteering Activities:

Ubuntu At Work Blog:

Ubuntu At Work Volunteering and Points System:


2.  Design e-store interface:  Although the majority of Ubuntu at Work’s orders are large-volume wholesale orders, Ubuntu is looking to increase sales in two manners:

  • Increase online retail sales during the holiday season

  • Find new ways of engaging with corporate customers

Although there is already an online retail platform, can you think of a new design scheme to meet the above goals? How can the Ubuntu at Work women best showcase their work online?

Education: The Aakash Tablet


1. Aakash – What’s the content?

One of the motives to make Aakash available for students was to have the NPTEL courses accessible on them. Now, with the launch of the Sakshat Portal,  can you think of ways to improve the standards of suitable educational content, and how they can be delivered directly to these tablets? Availability of MOOCs – similar to the availability of Coursera courses on the iPad, might be a first step. Is there another model?
Feel free to create Native apps/web apps/mock apps that can run easily on an Android platform (Ice cream sandwich) that proves to be student friendly.

Debate Question: Is it time to rethink how we deliver content on these tablets?



  • Understandable
  • Colorful and engaging
  • Ability for the best teachers to really get across to students

Issues and solutions

How to deliver video content to millions of tablets?

In house streaming is difficult since most places do not have high enough bandwidth to provide uninterrupted video to many students (3G coverage is very low, and GPRS is too slow).

So another option is to distribute videos via physical USB connection or wifi connection at schools. This might work better, since now the students will also have an incentive to go to school. A physical connection is also needed for another reason described later. We can compare these options now. We are assuming that there is a dire shortage of teachers and hence everybody has to get video for all subjects, and most of the learning happens through videos. Teachers are there just to resolve doubts as in the inverted classroom model.


Four or five fair quality videos of 1 hours each can be ~ 2GB. Assuming these tablets are pretty low end, and can only get a 5 MB/s transfer speed, this transfer will take 400s = 6 minutes, which is not too bad. If we assume all the transfers will be done within a timeframe of 4 hour, and there are ~ 400 students, we will need ~ 10 usb outlets, which might not be too difficult to provide. We can share one usb port from a computer via usb hubs.


Assume our low end tablet can again get wifi speeds up to 1 MB/s (802.11b is 11Mbps, which is similar). The videos now download in 40 minutes, which is reasonable enough. But, too many students downloading will definitely reduce the overall bandwidth to each student. Assume we have to provide the videos within a timeframe of 4 hours to all the students. Now, there needs to be at least 75 wifi outlets which will be much more difficult from a cost perspective.

Battery consumption

Videos consume lots of battery unless we have specialized video IP blocks within our processor. Even then, a low end tablet will not have more than 4 hours of battery life, which means our student will have to recharge in < 2 days if he is watching 2 hours of video everyday. Considering the poor penetration of electricity, probably providing usb outlets for charging at schools will be better. Assuming a tablet takes 1 hour to charge, this will require ~ 50 outlets per school (again assuming we have a 4 hour window in which anybody can charge their tablets).

Thus it seems video distribution needs a USB hub at every school containing ~ 20-50 outlets. One option to lower this is to provide one tablet every 4 or 5 student group, which will then lower the necessity for these outlets. Such groups will also spur group interaction, which can be a good side-effect. If USB is the way to go, it makes sense to build in more storage capacity so that students can refer to older material, which is a big advantage of online education. A 32GB model still can hold only last month’s videos.

Audio + ebook


  • Easier to distribute
  • Consumes less battery, thus overcoming the larger hurdles of video distribution
  • Can have fair amount of interactivity, if we include a pdf reader with each device, in audio questions can be done in the pdf.
  • Low storage requirements. Assuming audio is 1/10 of size of equivalent video, we are looking at a full year’s audio + pdfs all in one 32GB device.

Issues and solutions:

  • Not interactive, difficult to show logical steps than video, but better than books, and can be nicely complemented by a book or pdf with pictures.

  • Fairly cheap devices can still have interactive text and audio which can again be downloaded via USB. Cheaper devices will also mean the government has to foot a lower bill.

  • It seems better for each student to have one such cheap device. This can be based on e-ink technology like kindles, which will then cost much less and last much longer.

  • Fairly sophisticated or specialized material can also be distributed via this method to interested students.

  • This model is fairly non-interactive within different schools. In order to remedy this, we can encourage students to participate in question answer communities through their common tablets. Maybe we can also provide an SMS-based interface to asking/answering questions through the kindle-like devices.


Build a cheap and efficient device for reading pdf’s and listening to audio lectures by using an e-ink display. One can use reused displays from kindles available from ebay for ~ 25-30$. A resistive touchscreen can cost ~ 10-20$. After having a proof of concept on a board such as raspberry pi, one can look into building a more self-contained device. Intuitive alternatives to a touchscreen (joystick/arrow buttons) can also be investigated, since alternative keyboards in various indian languages can be difficult to mass produce.

2. Aakash – Time for an update

With several no-name manufacturers in Asia churning out tablets for less than $60 and with big companies like HP, Samsung and Intel working towards bringing high quality tablets for less than $100 this holiday season, how do you think the Aakash be improved in its hardware aspects and at the same time remain in its cost category?

We have a detailed list of specs that interested participants can go through to hammer out the best possible configuration, given the cost constraints.
P.S. – People are more than welcome to bring their own Raspberry Pis or Arduinos to test out stuff and show their work.

Link: Detailed draft spec sheet

3. Aakash – What’s the price?

The Aakash is also commercially available in the stores for a cheap price. Make a detailed price point comparison between the UbiSlate 7C+ and other consumer tablets and provide an abstract business model that can help Aakash boost revenue.

4. Networking of Campuses in India

Under the National Mission on Education through Info and Communication tech (NMEICT), each university and college is touted to get a broadband internet connection and standalone network-based solutions are being thought about for very low cost connectivity to student’s home. What are the ways to implement this (topology, cable type, server hosting capabilities, etc)? Can we extend this to schools, to build the primary internet access backbone for students?

Archive of Indian Music

aim logo


The Archive of Indian Music (AIM) is an organization that aims to digitize and make easily available online, recordings of classical Indian music that have long been forgotten or become inaccessible on vinyl records.

AIM also aims to collaborate with international bodies associated in this field and create partnerships with educational institutions, music organizations and other bodies involved and interested in archiving and preservation.

Its key objectives are:

  • To digitize and restore records and create a database of high quality and high fidelity recordings
  • To preserve these vintage recordings and make them available for listening to students, scholars, researchers, musicians and interested public
  • To enrich these recordings by sourcing additional information about them including biographical details of the artistes, photographs, gramophone record sleeve images and other materials of historical significance that document the era of the record

At present the organization has over 12,000 tracks digitized and available on the internet, as well as a website at There is not only a huge potential audience that wants to listen to these recordings, but also a moral responsibility in keeping a valuable part of our heritage safe and accessible to current and future generations.

The Challenge

1. The first challenge is to make this music collection easily accessible to the potentially millions of online listeners. This could involve, an online radio on the website, personalized artist recommendations for each listener and also mobile apps similar to most other music services on the internet today.

2. The second challenge is to effectively build a community of listeners around those who listen to and appreciate Indian classical music, using the website as a starting point. The existing website already has a forum and registration for users, but the usage is extremely limited.

This will potentially help in not only reaching out to more listeners and users of the music resource, but also help in finding more obscure classical music collections in different parts of the world which can then be digitized and preserved.

Food Security: The Public Distribution System

foodPartner: Vivek S, CDDRL Stanford University


The Public Distribution System (PDS) is an Indian food security system established by the Government of India under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution and is managed jointly with state governments in India. It distributes subsidized food and non-food items to India’s poor. Major commodities distributed include staple food grains, such as wheat, rice, sugar, and kerosene, through a network of public distribution shops, also known as Ration shops established in several states across the country. Food Corporation of India, a Government-owned corporation, procures and maintains the Public Distribution System.


India has a Public Distribution System with over 600,000 shops that distribute subsidized food grains and other essential materials in villages every month. In the state of West Bengal, the entitlements of the beneficiaries can change every month, and can be different in each district. Thanks to this variation, beneficiaries often do not know how much rice, wheat or kerosene they are entitled to making it easy for them to be cheated by the dealers.


Information on the entitlement of a person can be easily accessed through a photocopy from the government.  We plan to help our partner disseminate this information through automated phone calls using a hosted Interactive Voice-Response (IVR) platform called  We are looking for people with php & mysql backgrounds in order to build the app that would interact with Kookoo.  A technical partner will be available to work with the team.

With the help of a regularly updated database of food items, prices and allocated amounts per district, an application can be set up where ration card holders call a number and key in their block code (every ration district is organized into blocks with unique codes). Once the app gets the block code from the caller, it can then read out the entitlements. This can also be performed over SMS, but tests on the field have shown that there is a preference for voice-based interaction, since SMS is still a relatively underutilized feature on older generation mobile phones. Some other common problems with SMS are: the sms inbox is usually full, unused, English literacy is a hurdle for SMS, low-cost phones manufactured in Chine do not display local language script and so on. Moderators and volunteers from the field can send a structured sms to populate the price/amount info every week to keep the database updated.

Tools – being used in field tests currently – IVR platform