The idea to develop the world's cheapest computer was born in 2005 when HRD ministry resisted a proposal of the Planning Commission to buy $100 (approx Rs 5,000) laptop developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology for students to access internet easily.
The average cost of a laptop then was around $800 (approx Rs 40,000) and the MIT's device seemed cheap. Most educationists were ready to buy the argument expect NK Sinha, an IITian, then joint secretary in the ministry.
He urged that India can produce a simple computing device for students at $10 (approx Rs 500). "People called it an impossible task," Sinha recalled before the launch of $50 (approx Rs 2,470) tablet called Aakash.
Education secretary RP Aggarwal was convinced and allowed Sinha to constitute a small group of fellow IITians and experts to work on the idea.
Breakthrough came in 2007, when a final year student of IIT developed a motherboard - provides electrical connection to other components in a computer - suitable to run a low-cost computing device. "It was the first hope of realising a dream," Sinha, now additional secretary in HRD ministry, said.
It took another two years for the team of experts to develop a model for the low-cost device. In January 2007, the government included the model for funding under the National Mission for Information Communication and Technology and IIT Rajasthan bagged the job to develop the device.
The man in-charge of the project in IIT Rajasthan was its director Prem Kalra, whose son provided the first breakthrough. Over 170 students from his campus finally developed a prototype in 2009. After its initial testing, the cost of the device was projected as $35 (approx R1750).
A tender for one lakh devices was floated and Datawind bagged the project with the lowest bid of $37.98 (approx Rs 1,880).