This is NextLab


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Course Goals

  • To understand the social impact that mobile technologies are having in the life of low-income people in developing countries, and to chart their possibilities for the future.
  • To design and launch mobile technologies that are technically appropriate and socially informed in the context of developing countries, so as to enable true and sustainable adoption for the next billion users.
  • To learn to overcome the non-technical barriers (social, educational, industrial, financial) that prevent social mobile technologies from large-scale deployment in commercial networks.
  • To help shape the vision of how pervasive connectivity can create unprecedented opportunities for empowering low-income people in developing countries.

Course Details

Units: 3-1-5
[MIT credit units, which indicate a subject's time distribution, are represented by three numbers. Each unit represents approximately 14 hours of work. First is the number of units assigned for recitation and lecture; second, the number of units for laboratory, design, or fieldwork; and third, for preparation. Add the units together to obtain the total credit hours for a subject.]

Maximum class size: 30 students

Prerequisites: Permission of instructor for undergraduates.

Teaching Team

Course Sponsors

Telmex, Latin America's largest telecoms operator
América Móvil, fifth largest mobile network in the world
Nokia, Largest handset manufacturer in the developing world
Next Billion Network @ MIT Media Lab


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Potential Project Partners and Projects

Economic Empowerment

  • Macosa: Multilevel marketing for microfinance, Ecuador
  • PlaNet Finance: Mobile pre-screening for microfinance, Argentina
  • ITESM (Monterrey Tec): Agriculture pricing for market efficiency and disintermediation, Mexico/Nicaragua
  • United Villages: M-commerce interface, India


  • Telmex: Mobile social network for students in low-income communities, Mexico
  • ITESM (Monterrey Tec): M-learning for rural literacy instructors, Mexico


  • CIDRZ: Mobile diagnostics for cervical cancer, Zambia
  • GE Healthcare: Tele-radiology with Ultrasound on Mobiles, Belize

Environment and Community

  • Flow, Inc: Mobile/GIS InnovGreen Technology, Vietnam
  • Catholic Relief Services: Mobile Early Warning System for Disaster Management, India

The Next Billion in Our Neighborhood (partnership with the City of Boston)

  • "Thrive in Five": Mobile services for parents of 0-5 year olds
  • "Eat or Heat": Can we help people manage their money better?

Course Structure

This course has two main components: In-class Discussion, and Guided Design Process. The In-class Discussion component shall be generally scheduled for Monday's class, and the Guided Design Process component for Wednesday's class; however, special guest lectures and other activities are interspersed throughout. In-class Discussions consist of an 80 min session, once a week, wherein instructors will lead class discussion based on weekly research and case studies presented by students on a given topic. Guided Design Process consists of a separate 80 min. session, once a week, in which students are expected to present their progress on specific design milestones, and submit themselves to structured sessions of both expert and peer reviews.

This course has two main components: In-class Discussion (generally on Mondays), and Guided Design Process (generally on Wednesday). Special guest lectures and other activities will also be held occasionally during the term. In-class Discussions consist of an 80 min session, once a week, wherein individual students will be designated one research paper to read and facilitate discussion during class. We expect to designate an average of three student-led discussion every class (20-30 mins each). Guided Design Process consists of a separate 80 min. session, once a week, in which student teams are expected to present completed project milestones to the class and submit their work to structured sessions of expert and peer reviews. We expect half of all teams to present each Wednesday, with the other half presenting the following Wednesday.

Project Teams

The projects are the central part of the course and will be done in teams of three to five students. Each team will schedule a formal project meeting time as well as meeting times with its Team Advisors and Project Partners throughout the semester.

Because important work for this course will be done during class time, attendance is essential. Students missing a class or meeting should notify their instructors and teammates in advance and make arrangements to make up the work.


In-class participation and paper in-class discussion 20% (individual grade)
Working prototype 40% (team grade)
Sustainability plan 20% (team grade)
End-of-term public presentation 20% (both individual and team grade)

Course Schedule

1 Introduction to NextLab
2 Project proposal presentations

Needs assessment

Team formation

Class logistics

3 Planning ICT4D interventions

Economic and social conditions

Technology survey / ICT penetration

4 No class Milestone 1: elevator pitch, including related work
5 Social and cultural considerations Milestone 1 (cont.)
6 ICT4D history Milestone 2: needs assessment results
7 No class (holiday) Milestone 2 (cont.)
8 Interfaces Milestone 3: system design and initial implementation results
9 Health Milestone 3 (cont.)

Disaster management

Health (cont.)

Milestone 4: sustainability and financial factors
11 No class (holiday) Milestone 4 (cont.)
12 Education Mobile money and transactions

Environment and other applications

Milestone 5: demo

Milestone 5 (cont.)
14 Milestone 6: final presentation practice Milestone 6 (cont.)
15 Conclusion Final presentation event