Digital Drum among 2011's top inventions

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The Digital Drum, a computer system that gives people access to information on health, education and other relevant issues, has been cited by Time magazine as one of the world's top 50 inventions for 2011.

The Digital Drum is a co-creation by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The solution is based on the CSIR's Digital Doorway, a standalone computer system to promote self-learning of computer literacy and information skills. The Digital Doorway initiative is funded by the Department of Science and Technology.

The Unicef/CSIR team was tasked to come up with an alternative in Uganda, using local materials in a simplified housing. Khalid Arbab, Unicef's Uganda IT specialist, suggested that, since oil drums were readily available, they could be used as a basis for the new housing. Grant Cambridge, from the CSIR, worked with Jean-Marc Lefebure, from Unicef's Uganda office, to come up with a prototype Digital Drum, which was mounted on the wall.

Cambridge explains: “Manufacturing the Digital Doorway in Uganda was impossible, as the country lacks the suitable technology - powder-coating and laser-cutting equipment - to manufacture it to specifications.

“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.”

The Digital Drum has two workstations, 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 City. It features in the museum catalogue, “Design with the Other 90%: Cities”.

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