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Innovation & Startups

Playpower creates computer games for children in developing countries

For children in developing countries, educational games that are culturally appropriate and operate on low-cost computers are only too rare.

Playpower hopes to change that. The Project Olympus social venture is developing educational computer games for children in countries such as Africa, India and South America that run on computers that cost as little as $10. The games target STEM skills--science, technology, engineering and math--and are also available on modern platforms such as PCs, smartphones and tablet computers.

Playpower is well on its way to launching several game titles and building a community of more than 500 volunteers for the global effort, explains Derek Lomas, founder and director. The company has received financial support through several grants, including a MacArthur Foundation Grant, and $50,000 from Silicon Valley-based Marvell Semiconductor to develop a STEM game for their Android tablet.

"We realized that the cost of a computer isn't so much a barrier to computer-generated-learning as the lack of software," says Lomas. "We're looking to combine academic research with grant funding to create software titles that we can release on these really low-cost platforms."

Lomas believes providing the games through an open-source and nonprofit model would help to support the distribution of games to those who can't afford them.  Playpower is also a way to slip into the more competitive and profitable gaming space for higher computing platforms, he adds, especially the school market and games that address STEM learning. The company is based at Carnegie Mellon but includes team members in India, NYU, MIT and San Diego.

"We're looking at education as a really global issue that isn't currently being addressed," he says. "There are a lot of issues still to be worked out, but there's a lot of support to do this in Pittsburgh."

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Derek Lomas, Playpower

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