The Looma resembles little more than a makeshift wooden box containing a projector with some techy-looking doodads inside. The product's simple design masks its somewhat more complex purpose: to help teachers in developing countries give students access to technology-based learning and education tools, all sans internet connection.
It's the latest in a series of gadgets developed by Village Tech Solutions, a nonprofit founded by former Nepal residents David and Haydi Sowerwine of Menlo Park. Major parts of its code were written by high school students at Menlo School this summer.
From June 15 through the end of July, 22 Menlo School high school students worked six hours a day on software development projects to improve the "Looma." It was a six-week mix of unpaid internships, summer camp and startup microcosm, as described by the program's head, retired computer engineer Skip Stritter.
Students presented demos of their projects on July 27, showing how they learned new computer programming skills to: build a game for learning to tell time, translate or read aloud selected phrases, add new dictionary words, and develop a clicker wand to prompt the device, among other projects.
"Our mission is to develop tools to educate students in Nepal," Mr. Stritter said. As a nonprofit, Village Tech Solutions is on a tight budget, he explained. "The best engineering we can get (for free) is these kids," he said.
All the students had taken at least an introductory computer science course at Menlo School, while others had taken the school's AP course and Advanced Topics classes.
The skills and programming languages students had to learn to complete their projects were picked up with help from more experienced students or from internet tutorials, Mr. Stritter said.
Connor Kennedy, a rising junior at Menlo School, who worked on a project to enable teachers to annotate teaching videos, said he learned new programming skills and about working in a "real work environment."
Sonia Bhanot, mother of a Menlo School rising junior Jai Mehra, said she was impressed by the program and the "sense of achievement" it gave students for completing their projects.
Other participating students were: Jane Zafran, Niko Bhatia, Ian Costello, Grant Dumanian, John Weingart, Ryan Fischback, Aaron Brown, Thomas Woodside, Sam Rosenberg, Charlie Donnelley, Matt Flower, Maxwell Patterson, Jai Mehra, Jayden and Ellie Kunwar, Nikhil Singhal, Colton Conley, Anika Padwekar and Akshay Srivatsan.