Spotlight on Our Inaugural GPS Challenge First Runner-Up

It’s been said that knowledge is freedom. For many, this means freedom from poverty, since a formal education can significantly improve an individual’s standard of living.

In the Internet age, it may seem like online videos and other learning resources make education available to all. While this may be the case in developed countries, in many parts of the world, the broadband Internet access necessary to support streaming video is a luxury.

Consider that less than 1% of students in Africa and India have broadband access to the Internet. While smartphone use is increasing and improving Internet access, mobile data costs are still very high: a student trying to use an online service and watching videos only two hours a week will require an estimated $250 in mobile data! This puts knowledge–and the freedom that comes with it–out of the reach of many.

Enter dot Learn, a start-up formed by a team of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). dot Learn understood what we have always been concerned about; that the cost and speed of Internet access are the biggest barriers to online education in Africa.

They identified that chalkboard-style online videos can be encoded more efficiently than traditional digital video formats. Vectorization technology does this by encoding video as text rather than pixels. The result: vectorized compression creates videos more than 100x smaller than web videos.

Image courtesy of dotlearn.org

To put this in perspective, streaming a half hour of vectorized video requires less data than sending a single photo via SMS. With streaming rates at just 1MB/hour, video delivery can now be made as affordable as SMS. It also makes it possible to stream learning videos reliably to low-cost smartphones over 2G connections.

dot Learn is a great example of how technology can enable greater opportunities for more people. For their work, the team was awarded First Runner-Up with a prize of US$75,000 in the 2017 Cisco Global Problem Solver (GPS) Challenge. Our inaugural GPS Challenge included more than 1100 registrants from over 450 schools around the globe.

Knowledge and freedom are not without cost. But with companies like dot Learn using technology to its greatest advantage, it is possible to expand access to education to more people at a cost they can afford.

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Tae Yoo

No Longer with Cisco