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Freedom Toasters popping up everywhere!

Freedom Toasters, the conveniently located, self-contained, computer-based, ‘Bring ‘n Burn’ software kiosks pioneered by the Shuttleworth Foundation, have been embraced by a major learning institution, the University of South Africa, to provide course content to students. Freedom Toasters are like vending machines, but instead of being preloaded to dispense drinks or crisps, they dispense free digital products, including software, photography, music and literature. Read more about the UNISA project …

The University of South Africa (UNISA), one of the world’s largest distance-learning universities, is now using Freedom Toasters from Breadbin Interactive, rebranded as ‚UNISA Toasters’, to provide students with content for their courses.

The Freedom Toaster is an innovative content delivery kiosk that allows users to choose and burn relevant content onto CDs, DVDs or USB flash drives using an easy touch screen interface. The Freedom Toaster uses a customised open source operating system that allows the kiosks to burn multiple disks at once.

The Freedom Toaster project began as a means of overcoming the difficulty in obtaining Linux and Open Source software due to the restrictive telecommunications environment in South Africa, where the easy downloading of large pieces of software is just not possible for everyone.

Thanks to the open source nature of the Freedom Toaster, UNISA has been able to customise the platform for its own requirements. Students using the UNISA Toasters simply punch their student numbers onto the touch screen interface, which then displays their registered course list in digital format. The student chooses the course material he requires and then burns it onto CD, DVD or USB flash drive.

‚There is a global trend towards providing students with digital courseware at universities,‚ says Louise Schmidt, head of Electronic and Web Communication at UNISA. ‚However, in Africa this is limited by the digital divide and challenges in terms of connectivity. The UNISA Toaster helps us to bridge the divide and provide digital content to students who do not necessarily have Internet access, or enough bandwidth available to download resources.

‚UNISA piloted the project in 2007. Our initial plan was to gauge the interest of students to receive digital material. The pilot was a success and we decided to expand the project. We are now launching it at all registration centres in order to assist students to have their study material immediately upon registration, saving them having to wait for material to arrive via conventional mail.‚

Schmidt says that the Toaster is robust and user friendly and fits perfectly into the UNISA environment.

‚We ordered 30 Toasters and are busy rolling them out to all of our offices nationwide,‚ she adds.

Says Brett Simpson, managing director of Breadbin Interactive, ‚UNISA has done amazing work with its Toasters and is leading the way in terms of digital courseware and general content distribution at universities. They have shown some out-of-the-box thinking on what can be done with the Toaster’s platform.‚

UNISA is installing the initial 30 Toasters and has ordered another 31 units from Breadbin Interactive.

We’re proud to see the Toaster being used as an effective solution for education,‚ says Simpson. ‚And we look forward to working with UNISA in the future.‚

About the Freedom Toaster

Breadbin Interactive’s Freedom Toaster is a convergence of third-world problems and first-world technologies. This unusual union has resulted in an elegant and simple free-standing unit, containing Tactile Technologies’ ELO TouchSystems monitors. These are now being replicated all over the world, from Ethiopia to Saudi Arabia to India and Canada and beyond, more and more countries everyday are seeing these people-friendly touch.

The Shuttleworth Foundation began the Digital Content Distribution Initiative in an attempt to promote open source software, including uBuntu, their highly successful local version of Linux. The Foundation initiated development and production of the original Toasters, with a view to carrying all open source software and selected free content, too. South Africa’s expensive bandwidth makes it prohibitive for the very people who would draw the most benefit from Ubuntu, to get their hands on it. Like most operating systems, a comprehensive download can run to 700 megs, but now the platform can be acquired from a toaster, the perfect hold-all dispenser solution.

The Toasters are rugged and robust and have the kind of functionality which, according to Brett Simpson of Breadbin Interactive, ‚Work anywhere, all the time and are practically glitch free.’ The Toasters are fixed to the floor so they are vandal proof too, as well as low-maintenance and trouble-free work horses. All they need is a conventional power point.

A smaller countertop kiosk version of the toaster will be rolled out within the next month by Breadbin.

Ironically one of the most successful toasters is not situated in a technological cul-de-sac, but in Canada. Analysis indicates that the popularity of a toaster seems to be directly related to what software and media it dispenses, of which there is more and more every day. Music, videos, news, motivational interviews ‚ and free software and applications ‚ can be posted into the toaster and retrieved just as easily. The beauty is that it can all be accomplished quickly and totally securely, with none of the normal worries about viruses, connectivity or compatability. All one needs is a USB memory stick or a blank disc, and a few spare minutes.

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