By John Oram in California @ Monday, March 16, 2009 6:17 AM
| ||Etech 2009: While working in India, Derek Lomas came across a $12 TV Computer. He was fascinated by the resemblance to the 8-bit computers he learned on as a youngster. |
While in Bangalore working on an internship for Qualcomm, Lomas started asking students he was working with at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology what they knew about the local TV computers. He found that the systems sold in Bangalore were variations of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
The NES was an 8-bit “6502” microprocessor video game console, which was released by Nintendo in North America, Europe and Australia in 1985. Other early 6502 home computers included the Apple II, the BBC Micro, and the Commodore PET. All of them included the Basic programming language. Thus, developing your own applications was something many people did way back then.
Lomas seems to have more than a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit as well as many of the qualities of a CEO. By giving people a part of a puzzle to develop in their own styles, they take ownership of the project. He is also the kind of inquisitive person who has to find out what is 'behind the curtain'.
Lomas said that creating software and games for the $12, 8-bit computer will be relatively easy, because it is something even fifth graders can do. Many of Silicon Valley's finest are not aware that the Basic programming language remains part of the elementary school curriculum in many schools in China and India.
Lomas said that Bangalore's number one selling TV computer brand seemed to be the “Victor-70” – also known as Famicom (Nintendo Family Computer). The Victor-70 is based on an 8-bit 6502 platform that so closely resembles the original NES that it accepts Nintendo's cartridges. Like early home computers sold in the United States, they are plugged into a TV screen for display.
The Famicom style motherboard is small enough to be contained within a full-size keyboard and sold for $12 to $20 dolars in many countries. The Victor-70's keyboard has a slot for Nintendo's game cartridges, and is usually sold with a mouse, and two game controllers. These systems are currently on sale as 'TV computers' in Bombay, Bangalore, and Nicaragua.
They are often packaged in boxes covered with unlicensed cartoon art (Mario and Spiderman seem to be the favorites) and sometimes misspelt English ('Lerrn compiters the fun way!'). The TV Computers are bundled with games that might violate copyrights in the US – something that is probably more idle speculation than proven fact at this time. Many of the older 8-bit games and hardware are beyond patent life expectancy. Thus, they are prime candidates for open architecture licensing concepts.
While in Bangalore, Lomas got so involved with the so-called $12 TV computers that he enlisted graduate students at University of California – San Diego (UCSD) from “The Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts” programs into a distance learning scenario with Srishti students. The result has been a ground swell of interest in getting back to the basics of computer programming and 8-bit graphics. All this because many of the students remembered, like Lomas, what got them started in computing and graphics design.
Lomas again applied his persuasive talents and enlisted Jeremy Douglass, and later, Daniel Rehn, who together formed Playpower. Jeremy Douglass said that rather than figure out how they could create a cultural niche for a low-cost computer. They decided to identify the systems that are affordable and in demand, and instead put them to work.
Stay tuned for ITExaminer's interview with Derek Lomas in part two. X
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