In the early 2000s, when the government-owned Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) co-developed ‘Simputer’, a simple handheld computer with a projected half-price of a standard desktop, it seemed that India was on the cusp of a computer revolution. The device, which was produced jointly with PicoPeta Simputers Private Limited, was conceived as a low-cost alternative to desktop systems, which could bring the internet to small towns and villages. Launched at a time India was growing curious by the day about the World Wide Web, the product had a lot going for it.
The objective was to sell 50,000 units. However, by 2005, when PicoPeta had been bought out by a larger company, only 4,000 had been sold. By the following year, BEL had ceased marketing the device — a development which media pundits claimed was the final nail in the coffin for the product.
Now, 13 years later, BEL is all geared up to have another crack at the tablet market with an advanced new “secure” Android-Linux tablet for the defence and civilian market; a spiritual successor to the ‘Simputer’, which it hopes to roll out in a few months.
M V Gowtama, Chief Managing Director, BEL, said the company’s work on the ‘Simputer’ and a successive second-generation low-cost tablet in 2012-2013 had given BEL the requisite skills to develop a home-grown System on Chip (SoC). SoC is an integrated circuit commonly found on smartphones which integrates all components of a computer.
“Six lakhs of our second-generation tablet were provided to the Ministry of Rural Development,” said Gowtama.
V Mahesh, BEL’s chief of Research and Development, said the “secure” tablet may be ready within two months.
“We see a big market for this in defence as well as commercial applications. Because we have our own SoC, we will be able to bring down the costs,” he said.
“The ‘Simputer’ may not have taken off, but every technology that BEL develops is used in some way in future applications,” Mahesh added.