India's 2011 TR35: Top Innovators Under 35
Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, 29
A hybrid paper, pen, and digital slate solution for a low-cost digital record management system
Immediate digitization of data allows for easy aggregation, storage, and manipulation and digital devices allow real-time prompts and checks to ensure that data entered is accurate and complete. Technologies that exist today either require users to use a digital pen and a digital slate, which are not very user-friendly, or they require users to digress totally from pen and paper to a personal digital assistant or a computer-based interaction. All of these technologies are expensive as compared to a pen and paper medium. And therefore, such technologies have not taken off in countries like India where the masses are still comfortable using pen and paper to write in their regional languages.
Aishwarya Ratan has come up with a low-cost digital system which lets the users have the convenience of using a normal pen and a plain paper to record data and instantly store it in the digital form. This solution has been piloted with self help groups (SHGs) who microfinance and maintain records of each person's savings and loans. Conventionally, the data was recorded at a site on papers and it was later converted into digital data.
Aishwarya's team chose a low-cost digital slate and pen prototype device that allows handwritten entries, made with the pen on ordinary paper forms placed on the device, to be instantly digitized. On top of the device they built a financial record management application that followed the structure of the paper accounting system used by the SHGs. An account writer would have to simply make entries in a smaller version of the ledger book placed on the digital slate. He would then simultaneously open the digital application on the slate, progressing from one module to the next using the back of the pen as a stylus. As entries are made, they are automatically stored in their respective fields in the database. At the end, a voice-over in the local language is played back to validate the data. Once the errors are reconciled, the data gets validated and saved.