Engineers show off the £35 tablet

The dream of a universal computing device affordable by all is inching ever closer, as engineers from Rice University in the US and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore release details of the I-slate.

Aside from having a name which will likely get Apple's lawyers excited, the I-slate is an interesting device: designed to replace the traditional blackboard slates still used by schoolchildren in developing nations, the project aims to produce a tablet which can be powered by the sun and yet cost less than £35 when mass-produced.

"Our study clearly shows the I-slate is an effective learning tool for all students, regardless of their learning ability," claimed computer scientist and I-slate creator Krishna Palem of the product. "The first production I-slates will be pre-loaded with lessons for mathematics, science and social studies."

Developed by Palem and a team from Rice University in 2009, the device has already enjoyed small-scale trials in India during which it proved a hit with the children thanks to its interactive nature: rather than waiting for the teach, the tablet was able to offer hints about incorrect work the instant the student was finished.

"We know more than 90 per cent of what we need to know at this point," claimed Palem. "We've settled the hardware questions, and that is central to the manner in which the lessons are taught and the manner in which the students interact with the I-slate."

While full details of the hardware are being kept under wraps, Palem has confirmed that the solar-powered production version will swap out the off-the-shelf parts of the prototype for a custom low-power processor he himself has created by cutting the power draw in half.

With the design finalised, a larger-scale trial is due to take place in Indian villages later this year using off-the-shelf parts. Should that show an improvement in learning, the team will start work on the solar-powered custom-chip version for a full mass production run.

A video of the prototypes in action is available below.