$100 laptop -- good news for disadvantaged regions (and scripts?)

From: Michael Everson (everson@evertype.com)
Date: Thu Nov 17 2005 - 13:16:13 CST

  • Next message: Jukka K. Korpela: "Strange characters in the Collation Charts"

     From the BBC:


    UN debut for $100 laptop for poor
    By Jo Twist
    BBC News technology reporter in Tunis

    A prototype of a cheap and robust laptop for pupils has been welcomed
    as an "expression of global solidarity" by UN Secretary General Kofi

    The green machine was showcased for the first time by MIT's Nicholas
    Negroponte at the UN net summit in Tunis.

    He plans to have millions of $100 machines in production within a year.

    The laptops are powered with a wind-up crank, have very low power
    consumption and will let children interact with each other while

    "Children will be able to learn by doing, not just through
    instruction - they will be able to open up new fronts for their
    education, particularly peer-to-peer learning," said Mr Annan.

    He added that the initiative was "inspiring", and held the promise of
    special and economic development for children in developing countries.

    Green machine
    The foldable lime green laptop made its debut at the World Summit on
    the Information Society, which is looking at ways of narrowing the
    technology gap between rich and poor.

    Nicknamed the green machine, it can be used as a conventional
    computer, or an electronic book. A child can control it using a
    cursor at the back of the machine or a touchpad on the front.

    It can also be held and used like a handheld games console and can
    function as a TV.

    "The idea is that it fulfils many roles. It is the whole theory that
    learning is seamless," said Professor Negroponte, who set up the
    non-profit One Laptop Per Child group to sell the laptops to
    developing nation governments.

    "Studies have shown that kids take up computers much more easily in
    the comfort of warm, well-lit rich country living rooms, but also in
    the slums and remote areas all around the developing world."

    There has already been firm interest in the machines from
    governments, though no laptops have yet been manufactured.

    Professor Negroponte said he had asked the most enthusiastic
    countries, Thailand and Brazil, not to give written commitments to
    buy the machines until they had seen the working model, likely to be
    produced in February.

    There has also been interest in the machines from five manufacturers
    and three big brand name technology firms, but no firm commitments
    had been made.

    Big name supporters
    The laptops will be encased in rubber to make them durable and their
    AC adaptors will act as carrying straps.

    They have a 500MHz processor, with flash memory instead of a hard
    drive which has more delicate moving parts, and four USB ports. They
    link up and share a net connection through "mesh networking".

    Plans for the global domination of the children's laptop are ambitious.

    "The initial plan is to start with countries that are big and very
    different to each other," said Professor Negroponte.

    "We are launching with six countries initially, then six months
    later, as many countries as possible." Those include countries in the
    Arab world, two Asian, one sub-Saharan, and South American nations.

    The project also has some big name supporters on board, including
    Google, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

    But it will rely on open-source software so that support for local
    content and languages can easily be built.

    Although the laptops will initially be available to government only,
    the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is in talks with
    commercial manufacturers to make it available on the open market.

    To take part in the initiative, governments have to commit to buying
    a million machines for around $100 each.

    Mr Annan urged leaders and stakeholders at the summit to do their
    utmost in ensuring that the initiative was fully incorporated into
    efforts to build an inclusive information society.

    "We really believe we can really make literally hundreds of millions
    of these machines around the world," Professor Negroponte said, as
    costs continued to drop.

    He added that it was critical that children actually owned, instead
    of loaned, the machines.

    To overcome the potential problem of secondary "grey markets" for the
    machines, Professor Negroponte said the idea was that they would be
    so ubiquitous and prominent it would deter potential re-selling.

    "I hope there would be community pressure so it does not appear in
    the secondary market. The technology is in it so that the machine is
    disabled if not connected to the network after a few days," he added.

    Sharing and collaborating
    Technical breakthroughs have already driven the prototype design, but
    every technical breakthrough in the next five years would mean costs
    would continue to fall, he said.

    Michail Bietsas, MIT's director of computer systems told the BBC News
    website that laptops benefited primarily from mesh networking, as a
    way of sharing scarce net connections.

    One computer with a wi-fi or 3G net modem, for example, would share
    the connection with others in a classroom.

    He explained that the display did not have a backlight or colour
    filters that more pricey LCD laptop displays used, so saved power.
    Instead, bright LEDs are used which reduced power consumption by a
    factor of 10.

    The screens are dual-mode displays so that the laptop can still be
    used in varying light conditions.

    Although children will be able to interact with each other through
    the machines, education was still the priority for the laptops.

    But by using mesh networking, the vision is for children to interact
    while doing homework, and even share homework tips on a local
    community scale.

    Collaboration will also be encouraged by using open-source software,
    which the children could develop themselves and use in local

    "Every single problem you can think of, poverty, peace, the
    environment, is solved with education or including education," said
    Professor Negroponte.

    "So when we make this available, it is an education project, not a
    laptop project. The digital divide is a learning divide - digital is
    the means through which children learn leaning. This is, we believe,
    the way to do it."

    Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu Nov 17 2005 - 13:20:24 CST