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TECH TALK: Computing for the Next Billion: OLPC (Part 2)

June 15th, 2006 · 2 Comments

The One Laptop Per Child sites FAQ answers many questions that one would have about the project:

What is the $100 Laptop, really?
The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, with a dual-mode displayboth a full-color, transmissive DVD mode, and a second display option that is black and white reflective and sunlight-readable at 3 the resolution. The laptop will have a 500MHz processor and 128MB of DRAM, with 500MB of Flash memory; it will not have a hard disk, but it will have four USB ports. The laptops will have wireless broadband that, among other things, allows them to work as a mesh network; each laptop will be able to talk to its nearest neighbors, creating an ad hoc, local area network. The laptops will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data.

Why do children in developing nations need laptops?
Laptops are both a window and a tool: a window into the world and a tool with which to think. They are a wonderful way for all children to learn learning through independent interaction and exploration.

Why not a desktop computer, oreven bettera recycled desktop machine?
Desktops are cheaper, but mobility is important, especially with regard to taking the computer home at night. Kids in the developing world need the newest technology, especially really rugged hardware and innovative software. Recent work with schools in Maine has shown the huge value of using a laptop across all of one’s studies, as well as for play. Bringing the laptop home engages the family. In one Cambodian village where we have been working, there is no electricity, thus the laptop is, among other things, the brightest light source in the home.

Why is it important for each child to have a computer? What’s wrong with community-access centers?
One does not think of community pencilskids have their own. They are tools to think with, sufficiently inexpensive to be used for work and play, drawing, writing, and mathematics. A computer can be the same, but far more powerful. Furthermore, there are many reasons it is important for a child to own somethinglike a football, doll, or booknot the least of which being that these belongings will be well-maintained through love and care.

What about connectivity? Aren’t telecommunications services expensive in the developing world?
When these machines pop out of the box, they will make a mesh network of their own, peer-to-peer. This is something initially developed at MIT and the Media Lab. We are also exploring ways to connect them to the backbone of the Internet at very low cost.

How will these be marketed?
The laptops will be sold to governments and issued to children by schools on a basis of one laptop per child. Initial discussions have been held with China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand. An additional, modest allocation of machines will be used to seed developer communities in a number of other countries. A commercial version of the machine will be explored in parallel.

The laptops are expected to be available in 2007.

Tomorrow: OLPC (continued)


TECH TALK Computing for the Next Billion+T

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