Tough Little Laptop Aids Remote Field Work

A small, but tough laptop computer is creating a lot of buzz at the CRS Agriculture Symposium.

The laptop, called the Aid Station, is a light, compact model that was designed for use in the field to teach concepts of agricultural development and collect data that can be analyzed for enhanced monitoring and development. The laptop, which is less than half the size of a conventional portable computer, is being piloted for use in the Great Lakes Cassava Initiative, in which CRS and a consortium of partners are working to counter a devastating crop disease in six countries in East Africa.

CRS recently received a $100,000 grant from Intel’s INSPIRE•EMPOWER Challenge to help fund the laptop initiative. When the project is up to scale, CRS will deploy 250 of these computers in the six countries. The computers cost about $300 each.

Thomas Collette of Agilix Labs Inc., which is developing the software for the laptop, took the machine through its paces. He demonstrated how the computer can be used to teach courses and collect data even in areas where there is limited or no Internet connectivity. The next time the machine returns from the field, it can connect online in an office and quickly synchronize weeks of data. 

But what really impressed was when CRS’ Megan McGlinchy meted out some harsh punishment.

“It’s durable. It will hold up well in the field. It can handle water. It can be dropped,” she said, as she held the little computer up and poured a pitcher of ice water on the keyboard. “I’ve done this a couple of times, and it hasn’t broken yet.

But Collette warned against taking the demonstration too far. “I wouldn’t go swimming with it,” he said. “It’s not waterproof. It’s water resistant.

– reported by John Rivera

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