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Simputer-cum-printer: tomorrow's killer app device

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DQW Bureau
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Vinay Deshpande, one of the brains behind the `Simputer', while participating in a session at IT Kerala 2002 in Thiruvananthapuram, said that its next evolution would have a `Simputer with printer'. However, he was not aware that even before he made the prediction a few firms in Kerala had already developed a hand-held Electronic Ticketing Machine (ETM), a `simputer-cum-printer' to be used in Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses. 

From January 2003, conductors in select buses would be discarding their old ticket racks in favor of the more convenient and efficient ETMs. If successful, it would be deployed in all the buses at a cost of Rs four crore. This is reportedly the first time hand-held ETM's are going to be used on a wide-scale in the country. The final shape of the ETM was evolved after deploying the prototype in a busy route in Thiruvananthapuram for a week in January this year. 

Here are the vital statistics of the ETM - 30 cm length, 9.5 cm width and 3.5 cm height. It uses a micro-controller, EPROM/Flash memory to store the fare table and software and uses a rechargeable 1700 mA NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) battery similar to one used in cell phones. It can be recharged in the bus itself or at the depot counter. KSRTC opted for a thermal printer instead of a dot matrix to save printing time and reduce cost of consumables. "We opted for thermal printer as it should not take more than 2.5 seconds, the time required to issue a ticket manually," according to S Manoharan Nair, Administrative Officer of KSRTC and Technical Advisor to Transport Minister. The ETM matches its traditional ticket rack in weight at 700 gm and comes with a shoulder strap for ease of use. The original prototype weighed 840 grams.

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The NiMH battery can retain charge for 8 to 16 hours, has a LCD display and soft touch keypad. ETM concept has other useful applications as well--it can also be used for spot billing by Electricity Boards and Water authorities, banks for field deposit collection, fuels stations and gas agencies for billing operations, distribution agencies for billing and in research organizations for research data collection.

ETM's can result in savings of Rs two crore-Rs five crore a year for KSRTC. The savings both financial and manpower is effected in printing of tickets, way bills, journey bills, `C' forms, stock registers, ticket transaction registers, etc. Back office operation is considerably lessened as ETM data can be directly transferred to a counter unit or PC through infra-red (IR) transmission or IR port. Cost of thermal paper used would be realized through advertisements on the back of the ticket. 

KSRTC's scheduling of buses would also become efficient as ETM would provide details about number of passengers traveled between stages, trip-wise collection and those travelling with concessions. Fraudulent issue of ticket could be avoided since date, time, boarding point and destination point are printed in each every ticket. Moreover, reissue and issue of unaccounted tickets could be eliminated. ETM would reduce the paper work for conductors and lessen his overall burden. Each ETM unit would cost approximately Rs 8,500 each and KSRTC would require 4,000 such machines.

Cyber News Service

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