One Laptop per Child (OLPC)

Nicholas Negroponte, sun of a Greek shipowner and brother of the US vice secretary of state has initiated a project which not only has a very reasonable objective – getting all children of the world access to the internet and all available information and enable them to learn on their own, no matter how wealthy their family is – it is also coming with a very interesting technology challenge: to develop a laptop with all the capabilities needed for such a project for the cost of $ 100: “One Laptop per Child” (OLPC).
The price for this device itself is fascinating, but more fascinating also the features of this product:

  • the laptop can be used to write, do calculations, play or listen to music,
  • the laptop makes it very easy to connect to other computers of its kind nearby and automatically to the internet if one of these other computers has access to the internet, thus makes it very easy for kids to collaborate ( e.g. to solve school homework ) or to get to the world wide web, also through a special user frontend called “Sugar“,
  • the screen can be turned around and the entire thing used like a book, also the screen can be turned into a black-and-white mode with good contrast which makes reading screen contents easy even in sun light
  • besides regular power connection power can also be generated with a yo-yo type device by pulling a string to generate power: 1 minute exercising for 10 minutes computer power.

One way to build such a cheap computer (current price is around $ 175, but assuming higher production volumes until 2009 it is expected to reach the $ 100 target) is to avoid latest technology where not needed: this laptop comes with a 366 MHz AMD processor and 128 MByte RAM. It runs on Linux.
In additional it has been designed for maximum reliability and maintainability. There is no hard drive in this computer, a 512 Mbyte flash memory is used instead. Most repair can be done by the kids themselves, like replacing the light emitting diodes for the screen. Part of the project is also to organize repair centers and spare laptops in case of a more severe problem.

You would think that this is an outstanding project ? Sure it is, but it came as a surprise to me that there are actually 30 more competing projects out there. Intel for instance offer a $ 300 “Classmate PC”, Microsoft thinks offering a cell phone makes more sense, capable to connect to a keyboard and a TV screen.

Source: bild der wissenschaft, volume 7/2007, article “Vor dem Lernen Leine ziehen
Also check out this video; it covers a little bit technology at the beginning, then has lots of interviews about the vision behind and the justification for the project. This project really takes Web 2.0 to a next step – giving access to the web to “information have nots”, like Nicholas Negroponte call those who do not have access to the world wide information net.


2 Responses to “One Laptop per Child (OLPC)”

  1. Harry Kent Says:

    This is an interesting summary of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) programme. You make some good points, particularly about all the other competing projects out there. The OLPC is a great idea, as it will expose more kids to computers. OLPC will help children in developing countries around the world. But it will also change the world of laptops forever. The marketpace will benefit, and I’m sure that every home in the developed world will have one. What is becoming clear is that the OLPC is a not the solution but a starting point for development. This project needs to be handled in a sensitive way. Different needs and cultures must be addressed properly. Only then will the OLPC project be a success. Right now is an exciting time for technology, particularly mobile technology covering laptops, mobile phones and PDAs. Also the web and they way they all work with the web. I get my laptops and peripherals from Portable Universe and I can thoroughly recommend them. The best thing for people to do is to talk to them, let them know what your needs are (both current and future) and they will come up with the best laptop for you. I also get blank DVDs there for my backup.

  2. amagard Says:

    Thanks for the nice feedback, Harry. This acrticle from “bild der wissenschaft” was really a good read and made me excited about this project.
    Resources on this planet like water and food are unequally distributed in this world and it always requires some effort to overcome this problem. Information is another resource and probably the one resource which is easy to distribute everywhere, as soon as anyone has a connectivity enabled device in his hands like this 100 $ laptop.

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