‘Digital Drum’ makes TIME inventions list

30 January 2012

The Digital Drum, co-created by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has been cited by Time Magazine as one of the top 50 inventions in the world for 2011.

According to the CSIR, a Unicef/CSIR team was tasked with coming up with an alternative computer learning solution for Uganda, using local materials in simple but robust housing housing.

Unicef Uganda IT specialist Khalid Arbab suggested that, since oil drums were readily available locally, they could be used as a basis for the new housing. The CSIR’s Grant Cambridge worked with Jean-Marc Lefebure from Unicef’s Uganda office to come up with a prototype wall-mounted Digital Drum.

‘A solution developed in the absence of technology’

“The Digital Drum design proved to be an innovative way for Unicef and the CSIR to address a need through a solution developed in the absence of technology,” says Cambridge.

The Digital Drum is based on the CSIR’s Digital Doorway, a robust stand-alone computer system that promotes self-learning of computer literacy and information skills, while giving people access to information on health, education and other relevant issues.

The Digital Drum has two work stations, with content adapted from the standard Digital Doorway suite.

The original prototype, as well as a subsequent iteration of the Digital Drum using a second oil drum as a stand, is on display at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.

South Africa’s Digital Doorway project

South Africa’s Digital Doorway project, funded by the Department of Science and Technology, explores “minimally invasive education” as an alternative means of promoting wide-scale computer literacy.

It does this through Digital Doorways, free-standing multimedia computer terminals with keyboards and touchpads embedded in robust kiosks, accessible to the public 24 hours a day.

It seeks to verify results, in the South African context, of research conducted in India, through an initiative called Hole-in-the-Wall, indicating that children can acquire functional computer skills without any formal training – through their own intuition and exploration.

The idea is to provide people in rural and disadvantaged areas with computer equipment, and allow them to experiment and learn with minimal external input.

SAinfo reporter