A phone is not just a phone
Monday, July 6, 2009
A cellphone is not just for calling, texting and taking pictures anymore. Several startup business ventures spawned by MIT students, sometimes as class projects and sometimes as independent work, are exploring new ways to harness the increasingly ubiquitous devices. They are using phones to help people, especially in developing nations, to raise their incomes, learn to read, get where they’re going and even diagnose their ailments.
Some of these projects will be field-tested this summer as student groups fan out around the world to fine-tune and improve their concepts and launch new businesses. Many were developed as entries for MIT’s IDEAS or $100K business competitions, or as part of the MIT Media Lab’s NextLab program to develop cellphone applications geared toward the developing world. (Several high-end applications, aimed more at consumers in the developed world, are also being developed at MIT. Read more about them here.)
NextLab is based on trying to answer the question “can you make a cellphone change the world?” says its instructor Jhonatan Rotberg, director of the Media Lab’s Next Billion Network – a group, of which NextLab is a part, formed to examine potential applications for the next one billion people expected to become cellphone users over the next three years. With cellphones now in the hands of four billion people worldwide, he says, “we’re at the threshold of something important in history.”