MIT’s $100 Laptop Plans

Wired has more details on Nicholas Negroponte’s idea:

The $100 laptop will not only be something to own and feel empowered by, it will also be portable and a tool for collaboration. Students will be able to access thousands of textbooks electronically and learn how to program, one of the best ways to “learn how to learn,” according to my MIT colleagues Seymour Papert and Mitch Resnick. So in addition to using readily available applications, young people might also develop software suited to their own purposes. And when students attach cameras, microphones, and printers, the basic laptop will become a foundation for innovation, a tool in tune with their different interests and talents.

Displays are one of the most expensive components of a laptop – typically costing manufacturers about $170 – and thus, they present one of our highest hurdles. Two up-and-coming technologies help the cause, however. The first is a thin, folding screen in development at MIT’s Things That Think consortium. Unlike typical LCDs, this approach uses rear-projection, and with its fold-away design, a laptop could be quite small. Best of all, a 12-inch screen of this variety could cost as little as $30.

The second promising technology would allow us to keep the current laptop form and is based on lowering the cost of thin-film transistors used in LCDs. This approach uses a nascent technique called printed electronics to print transistor patterns with special semiconducting inks. There are about two dozen projects under way at startups like E Ink and Kovio (I was a founder of both), as well as at large corporations focused on adapting the economics of printing to the manufacture of TFTs and displays. These efforts could lead to 12-inch displays that also cost about $30.

MSNBC adds:

Here’s the MIT team’s current recipe: Put the laptop on a software diet; use the freely distributed Linux operating system; design a battery capable of being recharged with a hand crank; and use newly developed “electronic ink” or a novel rear-projected image display with a 12-inch screen. Then, give it Wi-Fi access, and add USB ports to hook up peripheral devices.

Most importantly, take profits, sales costs and marketing expenses out of the picture. “The technology challenge is real, and you need to make some breakthroughs, but most of the money is saved in other ways,” said Negroponte, who pitched the project in January at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the annual confab of global powerbrokers.

Negroponte has also met with Chinese and Brazilian officials to discuss expected orders and production in those countries, which would create local jobs. Two prototypes have been built, and test units could be shipped by the middle of next year. The project would essentially be nonprofit, with about $90 covering hardware for each computer and an extra $10 for contingencies or a small profit margin depending on how each government’s order is structured.

Wired News adds: “The mission: to make laptops as ubiquitous as cell phones in technology-deprived regions. Negroponte’s pitch: The cost of a laptop comes in far lower than a child’s textbook expenses for the computer’s lifespan.”

A Slashdot discussion Simputer: “Picopeta sold 2,000 units over the past year, while Encore Software sold 2,000 Simputers. Only 10% of the devices were bought for rural areas, which the device was originally designed for. The reason? The companies need to sell quite a few simplistic monochrome devices to allow for the low price tag of $200.”

Also see earlier Emergic posts [1 2] about the $100 laptop.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.