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VBAT, Hinglish, Rickshaw strike and Cricket World cup

Stéphane Boyera · April 3, 2011

Aman, and I together with our colleague from North West University (SA) Etienne Barnard were in New Delhi last few days to have the first face-to-face meeting with our partner One World South Asia (OWSA) concerning the VBAT project. As explained in a previous post, this project is critical for our work on enabling voice browsing. It focuses almost exclusively on the human
factor aspects: how to enable people without prior exposure to technology and IVR in particular to interact with a computer through (mobile) phone and voice services, and trust the delivered information.

A big part of the success of this project relies on the testbed environment, and in that regard OWSA couldn’ t be a better partner. With their agriculture lifeline project they are able today to answer farmers’ questions reaching them through mobile phone. They currently have a database of 400.000 Q&A which allows them to answer more than 80% of the requests, the other 20% being answered by experts (enriching the database over the time).

indian with a phone
indian with a phone

However, even in the 80% of the case where the database has the information requested, the answering process to the farmer still requires heavy human intervention. Our mid-term objective is to investigate how innovative services could help farmers retrieve existing answer directly in the system. This first face-to-face meeting with all the partners involved in the projet allowed us to define a precise experiment plan, and implementation details. For us, it was a great opportunity to understand in details how the lifeline is operating in practice, and we learn lots of very interesting facts. One that attracted my attention is a SMS layer OSWA has worked on for the field workers. They eventually dropped it for costs reason, but discussing around it, i learnt about a new language that exists in India: Hinglish !! it is Hindi spelled in latin characters, on a phonetic base, to fit with SMS. In summary, this first kick-off meeting was very positive. We have now a plan ready that will lead to field deployment in the October/November 2011 timeframe.

non-striker rickshaw
non-striker rickshaw

Aside to the meeting, it is also always a great pleasure to visit India (see my last year post). For the first time in my life, I experienced a rickshaw strike ! I thought that only french were striking, but i was wrong. For the first time again in my life, we had to wait ages to find rickshaws ! The reason of the strike is that government wants to give to rickshaw drivers a GPS. I didn’t really understand the point. Why government would spend a large amount of money to supply GPS to private entreprises ? There might be some reasons. Why rickshaw drivers are against that ? That’s another mystery. We tried to chat with one and asked why he was against ? He had no idea what was a GPS, but he was against !!! We were eventually unable to figure out the problem !!

Finally, I would be incomplete in reporting on this travel without mentionning the Cricket World Cup taking place this year in India. I arrived the day India won over Pakistan. Landed 10mn before the end of the match !! The travel from the airport till the hotel was just incredible !! Thousands of people dancing in the street ! I’ve to say that I had no idea what cricket rules were or how the game is played ! Thanks to Aman and Etienne, I now know what is an over, a batsman, a wicket, a 50-50 and a 20-20 etc. And I even got addicted and watched most of the final on saturday ! I really enjoyed it ! It is time to see if there is a cricket french league !!

Anyway, stay tuned on VBAT and Aman and I will keep you informed on the evolution of this project.


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  1. Becky

    May 12, 2011

    Hi Stephane! I've been reading your posts on this site & would like to contact you regarding a post I'm writing on m4d in India. Please get in touch via email :)


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