The $100 Computer

WorldChanging has a couple [1 2] posts on the announcement by Nicholas Negroponte to build $100 laptops for developing countries. James Cascio writes: “It’s most likely that a cheap, rugged information device for the developing world will evolve from mobile phones, not be a chopped-down desktop or laptop.”

The $100 PC is exactly what we are seeking to do in Novatium (a JV with IIT-Madras). But there are two key differences: we see the $100 PC as a network computer, and having a full-size keyboard, mouse and monitor.

The Guardian has more details on Negroponte’s plans:

“Laptops, as we know them, are a luxury,” agrees Negroponte. “Education is not. At $100, this is about learning and exploration, not giving kids costly tools and toys. Almost anything, from healthcare to food to birth control, can be addressed well, if not best, through education.

“The deeper divides are unequivocally proportional to education. Peace will never happen as long as there is poverty. Poverty can only be eliminated through education.”

So what will the children get for $100, considering a half-decent laptop can cost 10 times that much? The goal is to provide a laptop that does everything a conventional laptop can. It will have a 12in colour screen and run Linux and other open source software. It will be Wi-Fi and 3G-enabled, with many USB ports. The laptops will not have lots of storage space, and will not be hooked up via a conventional local area networks, but will rely on mesh networks, where one child’s laptop will act as the print server, one the DVD player, and another the mass storage device.

The most expensive part of any laptop is the screen, so instead of using expensive LCD displays, the MIT team is developing a flat rear-projection screen. The other alternative is based on electronic ink, invented by Joseph Jacobson, also from MIT. Screens are expected to cost less than $30.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.