It is an idea that was born out of a need to demystify technology,an idea that now holds the promise of delivering nine villages in Raigad district of Maharashtra from anonymity.
It was a year ago that a team led by Professor Nagarjuna G from the Gnowledge lab of the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education set out to map these villages in Khalapur taluka of the district bordering Mumbai. With some basic engineering,transparent spectacle cases were turned into Global Positioning System (GPS) devices at a cost of Rs 6,000 each; the contraptions are cheaper than GPS trackers available in the market at Rs 25,000 upwards.
Each time the team visits these villages,the GPS navigators pick up signals from satellites,zeroes in on the latitude and longitude coordinates of the area and starts collecting trails as they go along. Once back in Mumbai,the GPS devices are connected to laptops and the tracks are uploaded online along with detailed notes on open street map,a copyright-free mapping application created entirely through user contributions.
Today,most of the roads in these villages have been tracked on the online map. Google maps and most other market-driven maps created by corporates are meant for the consumption of their middle class clientele and hence have every minute details of urban areas such as restaurants and banks, says Nagarjuna,who has a PhD in Philosophy of Science from IIT-Kanpur. Villages,he says,do not hold any commercial interest and hence are denied an existence on most online maps.
The project started off as an offshoot of the Gnowledge labs One Laptop Per Child Project,a unique experiment in educating 25 tribal children in Khairat village of Raigad in a digital studio-based learning environment. A strong advocate of the global free software movement,the laptops run on the entirely free GNU Linux operating system with a Marathi interface.
Mapping of these nine villages is not the official mandate of our lab. But since our team was regularly visiting these villages,we took it up as an ambitious project, says Nagarjuna.
The team has managed to rope in teachers in some of the villages to create Wikipedia pages on their villages. Instead of some person sitting in a city writing about these places,we thought it will be best if the teachers from the community wrote, he says.
We also encourage our students to use their laptops to record stories narrated by their grandparents and then ask them to transcribe it in Marathi. The idea behind involving students and teachers in this manner is to imbibe in them a feeling that they need not merely be consumers of technology but can also be producers, he says.