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$100 Laptop

November 17th, 2005 . by Matt

computer
This could spark an information revolution in developing countries – even people in first world countries could make use of the $100 laptop. Picture from the UN meeting in Tunis

These last couple of months, I have been watching the progress of the $100 Laptop, the brainchild of MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte. A protype was shown at the UN net summit 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 Annan.

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 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 learning.

“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.

The laptop uses flash memory rather than a hard drive, so it is hardier. Particularly exciting is the ‘mesh network’, which all the laptops will have, that will form a kind of mini-net of users that will be able to connect to each other via bluetooth style connectivity. This will enable people without net connections to chat with each other, for example. If a whole neighbourhood had the $100 laptop, it is concievable that a large mesh connecting the whole community together could be created. Some people are already putting into place similar networks in the US, but the low costs involved (only $100!) make the creation of this kind of network not only feasable, but inevitable. As the article below points out, they will also be able to share internet connections through the mesh.

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 communities.

“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.”

Versions produced for third world countries will also come with a hand crank to generate power – apparently, the hand crank is quite efficient, and is the solution for those that cannot afford batteries.

I think this is be welcome in the first world as much as the third. Below are some pictures of the $100 laptop.

laptop 1

laptop 2

laptop 3

Update: It just occured to me that the specs of this device makes it more powerful than an expensive PDA. Anyone knowledgeable care to comment on that?


12 Responses to “$100 Laptop”

  1. comment number 1 by: DLR

    It just occured to me that the specs of this device makes it more powerful than an expensive PDA. Anyone knowledgeable care to comment on that?

    The developers attribute the cost reduction to the cheap LCD, which only costs “approximately $35”. I bet its resolution is not as good as those in PDAs (probably much worse).

    Also let’s not forget that they chose Linux!

  2. comment number 2 by: eli

    Negroponte is primarily a self-promoter. I’ve been saying for a while that the Media Lab is a waste of resources, but this might make me change my mind. Steve Jobs offered to allow the use of OS X for these $100 laptops but it was decided that they should stick with a fully open-source operating system isntead. As a Linux user at home I applaud that decision.

    Kofi, for his part, is already imagining ways to segue this product into a new Mercedes for himself.

  3. comment number 3 by: usinkoera

    What kind of data transfer systems does it have? What kind of hardware, if any, is needed to transfer stuff from one computer to the next, if any?

    Over at One Free Korea, a couple of times within the last month or so, we’ve gotten into a discussion about better ways to get information into North Korea (and eat the regime out from the inside).

    I’ve long said technology of today has made the power of the printing press exponentially greater, and it has been a powerful tool for centuries.

    I’ve also said for a good while if I were president of the US, I would made North Korea look like a dumping ground for top of the line, small sized IT equipment down to the basics. I’m make the North Korean underground look like the expressway for Office Depot and Hewlett-Packart’s warehouse. And I’d flood it with Disney movies, Korean soap operas, French films, and everything else.

    One problem with this idea I’ve imagined is power. North Korea can’t run its factories much of the time, and I just watched on the latest project showing video smuggled out of the North that one way they catch North Koreans daring to threaten national security by watching South Korean soap operas is to cut the power to the house just before busting in, because the people can’t get eject the VCR tapes.

    This small computer you wrote about is easier to hide than a VCR. You don’t need a TV. And you can crank it for power.

    If it can handle CDs or DVDs or has some other ability to transfer data into it, like those USB data sticks, so North Koreans could pass along videos, magazines, and other information sources that are also visual stimulating (a picture is worth a 1,000 words), if I were president, this computer maker would have one of the fattest government contracts I could throw its way, and one day soon, Kim Jong il would be broadcasting through his news station about the evil American bastards and holding up one of those little green boxes.

    And I would be out the next day daring anybody to rile at me about North Korean’s getting the chance to watch Mickey Mouse or the BBCs The Office or a Korean soap opera my wife (Korean) loves so much.

  4. comment number 4 by: dead

    3 comments? little interest in 100$ computers.
    people are here to read about why Korea is bad or to defend Korea. Korea. Korea. Korea.

    any other article, such as terrorism in Australia, just does not bring in the people.

    People expect a nice rowdy debate/fight about Korea.
    Hate Korea? Love Korea? There is no middle ground here. Now…if those computers had been made by a Korean company…well…comments here would be a lot more.

  5. comment number 5 by: Matt

    Now…if those computers had been made by a Korean company…well…comments here would be a lot more.

    If a Korean company could make that, I would write positive things. As it stands, some of the parts of the computer will probably be made in Korea. Its true that people enjoy controversy though.

  6. comment number 6 by: takeshima

    GOod point Dead, corans dont much care about anything unless it relates to corea. They didnt give a crap about stem-cell research until they got wood over their imagined nobel prize.

    You have to laugh at the arrogance of Coreans who presume that Hwang was now going to cure cancer:
    http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200511/200511210023.html
    I feel symphaty for the poor women who were in debt and desperate for cash. Hwangs team of vets lied to the women and kept them in the dark so they could experement on their ova. Can you imagine the poor lab assistants who Hwang pressured into giving up her eggie-weggie so he can get famous. Sad sad sad coreans.

  7. comment number 7 by: takeshima

    Hwangs hands are indeed bloody. I wonder how much pressure she was under to give him her ova. I supose in another time and place he would be another Josef Mengele.

    http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/200511/kt2005112217340610440.htm

  8. comment number 8 by: RFalcon

    Linx, great that means there’d be practically no software for it. I don’t know if I like the color of this thing. Does it come in different colors also? Looks like I’ll have to get a reg. laptop after all.

  9. comment number 9 by: Lexi

    I wount buy this thing it may be cool to carry around but as with all computers it will probably need to be upgraded soon.

  10. comment number 10 by: Curzon

    What happens if the crank breaks? Looks pretty flimsy to me…


  11. […] Remember the $100 laptop being designed by MIT? It looks like a Chinese company has produced a desktop that will cost only US$150. It is called ‘Municator’, and it was demonstrated at the CeBit trade show. […]


  12. […] Intel will develop a basic notebook that will compete with the OLPC notebook designed for Children in developing countries. The OLPC project has spawned many other similar projects designed to bridge the “digital divide”, like the new Intel notebook under development, and the “Municator”. Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, is planning to mass market a $199 (£99.70) notebook computer. […]