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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  November 2005

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE November 2005

Subject:

MIT Researchers Unveil a $100 Laptop Designed to Benefit Children Worldwide

From:

"S. E. Anderson" <[log in to unmask]>

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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 23 Nov 2005 03:58:31 -0800

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text/plain (346 lines)

Please note that the $100 laptops—not yet in production—will
NOT be available for SALE. The laptops will only be distributed
to schools directly through large government initiatives.

The MIT Media Lab has launched a new research initiative to develop
a $100 laptop—a technology that could revolutionize how we educate
the world's children. To achieve this goal, a new, non-profit
association, One Laptop per Child (OLPC) <http://laptop.media.mit.edu/laptop-images.html>,
has been created. The initiative was first announced by Nicholas
Negroponte, Lab chairman and co-founder, at the World Economic
Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2005.
---------------------------------


http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i14/14a04101.htm

>From the issue dated November 25, 2005
MIT Researchers Unveil a $100 Laptop Designed to Benefit Children
Worldwide

By JEFFREY R. YOUNG

Saying they hope to bring every child in the world a computer,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have unveiled
a laptop that will cost around $100, run on batteries that can
be recharged by turning a crank, and connect to the Internet
wirelessly by piggybacking on the connection of a nearby user.

The machine made its debut last week at the United Nations' World
Summit on the Information Society, in Tunis, Tunisia. Nicholas
Negroponte, director of MIT's Media Lab, showed off a working
prototype during a news conference at the summit. Actually, the
machine was not quite finished — the guts of the computer, which
had not yet been placed in the laptop casing, were hidden out
of sight during the demonstration. A fully working model is expected
in February, and production will not get underway until the end
of 2006 at the earliest.

Mr. Negroponte first announced plans in January to create the
low-cost laptop and to work with developing nations, as well
as with state governments in this country, to have school systems
purchase the machines and give them to millions of students around
the world. That would narrow the digital divide, and could spark
innovations in commercial laptops as well.

At his presentation in Tunis, which was broadcast online, Mr.
Negroponte stressed that the focus of the effort is on the social
benefits the laptops will bring, not on the machines themselves.
"It's an education project, not a laptop project," he said.

But it remains to be seen whether the prototype convinces leaders
to purchase the laptops on the scale that Mr. Negroponte hopes
— at least a million units per country, with production beginning
at the end of next year, possibly in some of the buyer nations.
Mr. Negroponte said in an e-mail interview last week that production
would not go forward until he had commitments from several countries
with orders totaling at least 5 million laptops. "I hope it will
be 10 million," he added.

MIT has helped set up a nonprofit organization called One Laptop
per Child that is coordinating the development of the laptop
and working with government leaders (http://laptop.media.mit.edu).
The nonprofit group has received $1.5-million each from five
companies — Advanced Micro Devices, BrightStar, Google, News
Corporation, and Red Hat. Each company gave an additional $500,000
to the MIT Media Lab to support the laptop's development.

Though some might argue that poor children in developing nations
have greater needs than shiny new computers, leaders of MIT's
effort say that the educational benefits of Internet access far
outstrip the project's cost.

"There is no other way that has been suggested of giving people
a radical change in their access to knowledge except through
digital media," Seymour A. Papert, a professor emeritus of learning
research at MIT's Media Lab who is involved in the laptop project,
said in an interview.

Mr. Negroponte said he was not yet ready to accept purchase orders
from anyone because he wants government leaders to look at the
prototype first and see if it meets their needs. "We need to
have the flexibility to do this right, not on an artificial deadline,"
he said. "Also, it would be foolish for anybody to sign a [purchase
order] without seeing it."

"Come February or March, that should all change," Mr. Negroponte
added.

The project's leaders are in talks with several nations, including
Brazil, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Thailand, and South Africa, that
are potential buyers of the laptops. "No country has signed a
check," said Mr. Papert. "The status is that there's been a lot
of interest, and some countries are very far along in the process
that they would have to go through in order to do it."

The governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, a Republican, is
calling for his state to buy one of the laptops for every Massachusetts
middle- and high-school student, starting in late 2006.

Project officials are also considering allowing a commercial
company to manufacture a version of the laptop and sell it to
the public, but those would probably retail for about $200 and
would most likely not be available until 2007.

Innovative Design

The screen is the feature the laptop's developers are most proud
of, said Mr. Papert. It has two modes — color and black and white.
The black-and-white mode consumes very little energy and has
an extremely high resolution that makes for easy reading, even
in sunlight. It will measure either seven-and-a-half or eight
inches diagonally — about the same size as screens on portable
DVD players.

The machine can be configured to use either two or four rechargeable
C-size batteries. By using two batteries, users can also insert
a hand-cranked charging device to recharge the machine on the
go. Mr. Negroponte said he hoped the laptop would run at least
10 minutes for each minute of cranking. That means students will
get a physical workout while using the machines, but they will
be truly wireless and portable.

When a user is near an electrical socket, the laptop can be plugged
in using a power cord that doubles as a carrying strap.

The laptop will run Linux, a free, open-source operating system.
It will have a flash memory drive, which uses less energy than
a conventional hard drive but also has less capacity. The capacity
of the drive will depend on how much the equipment costs at the
time the laptops are produced, but officials say the laptops
will probably hold either 500 megabytes or 1 gigabyte of data.
That means the laptops will hold less information than most iPod
digital-music players.

The machine will have a 500-megahertz processor, which is slow
by current standards. Some commercial laptops can run at speeds
that are at least four times faster, though their prices are
also far higher.

Though $100 is the target price for the laptops, producers may
not hit that right away, Mr. Negroponte said.

"It might be $115.72" at first, he said, but he stressed that
governments will get the equipment at cost. "This price will
float always down."

Mr. Papert said there were features he wanted on the machines
that were not possible because of cost constraints. For instance,
there is no built-in camera, as originally planned, and no DVD-ROM
drive, he said. "All along the line it's trade-offs and compromises."
The machine will have several USB ports so users can connect
such devices themselves.

The laptop's designers also promise that the laptop will not
be given regular makeovers or new features each year, as commercial
laptops are, and that any future machines will be fully compatible
with the initial models.

Political Battles Ahead

It is not yet clear that the project can clear the bureaucratic
and political hurdles necessary to get foreign governments to
spend millions on laptops and their distribution.

In fact, an official in Chile has recently indicated that the
country would not be signing on anytime soon. Hugo Martínez,
director of a program in Chile that provides technology services,
told the newspaper La Tercera that the country was not planning
to join the project immediately. "The first shipment of computers
from Negroponte's project is going to be delivered between December
of 2006 and January of 2007, and for that reason it would be
overly idealistic to commit [to buy] a certain number of computers
that do not yet exist." He also noted that the educational value
of providing laptops to students was still not proven.

Mr. Negroponte said Thailand and Brazil had expressed "the most
sustained commitment" to the project. "We have one of our people
full time in Brazil, as of the beginning of November," he said.

Mr. Papert said Brazil was interested in the project not only
for educational reasons, but also because it hopes that participating
could help put the country on the map as an electronics producer.
"They're looking for a niche in the high-tech market," he said.
He noted that Brazil might produce one million laptops for use
in Brazil and another million for export to other countries in
the region. Officials in Brazil could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Romney, the Massachusetts governor, hopes to purchase laptops
for his state as part of a broad education-reform plan he submitted
to the Massachusetts legislature in September. Mr. Romney requested
some $54-million to pay for the laptops, support, and training
for 500,000 students.

"Governor Romney's goal is to help prepare students for success
in an increasingly competitive and technological world," said
Felix Browne, a spokesman for the governor. "He believes that
laptop computers are powerful tools that can help kids pursue
their own avenues of discovery and take their learning beyond
the classroom."

Massachusetts would not be the first state to give out laptops
to students. Maine started giving out Apple iBooks to all seventh
graders in 2002, as part of a project that Mr. Papert was also
involved with.

The program in Maine "is producing some very good results," Mr.
Papert said. "There's more engagement — they're learning it better
with more enthusiasm." He noted, however, that the laptops "are
not, on the whole, producing a radical change in what the children
learn." That's because of resistance to change by some education
leaders, he said. He said laptops would likely have a bigger
impact in developing nations. "In places where there's hardly
any education at all, there's also no conservatism about the
school systems," he suggested.

"People in developing countries really want to develop — they
really want to change," he said. "They see it is conceivable
for a country to pull itself up from the lowest to the really
highest levels of economic operation, and everybody thinks education
is a part of that."
--------------------------------

http://chronicle.com
Section: Information Technology
Volume 52, Issue 14, Page A41
Copyright © 2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
=================================

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Nicholas Negroponte, founding chairman of MIT's Media Laboratory,
answers questions on the initiative.

What is the $100 Laptop, really?
The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, full-color,
full-screen laptop that will use innovative power (including
wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store
huge amounts of data. This rugged laptop will be WiFi-enabled
and have USB ports galore. Its current specifications are: 500MHz,
1GB, 1 Megapixel.

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, or—even better—a 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.

Finally, regarding recycled machines: if we estimate 100 million
available used desktops, and each one requires only one hour
of human attention to refurbish, reload, and handle, that is
forty-five thousand work years. Thus, while we definitely encourage
the recycling of used computers, it is not the solution for One
Laptop per Child.

How is it possible to get the cost so low?

    * First, by dramatically lowering the cost of the display.
The first-generation machine will have a novel, dual-mode display
that represents improvements to the LCD displays commonly found
in inexpensive DVD players. These displays can be used in high-resolution
black and white in bright sunlight—all at a cost of approximately
$35.
    * Second, we will get the fat out of the systems. Today's
laptops have become obese. Two-thirds of their software is used
to manage the other third, which mostly does the same functions
nine different ways.
    * Third, we will market the laptops in very large numbers
(millions), directly to ministries of education, which can distribute
them like textbooks.

Why is it important for each child to have a computer? What's
wrong with community-access centers?
One does not think of community pencils—kids 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" something—like
a football, doll, or book—not 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.

What can a $1000 laptop do that the $100 version can't?
Not much. The plan is for the $100 Laptop to do almost everything.
What it will not do is store a massive amount of data.

How will these be marketed?
The idea is to distribute the machines through those ministries
of education willing to adopt a policy of "One Laptop per Child."
Initial discussions have been held with China, Brazil, Thailand,
and Egypt. Additional countries will be selected for beta testing.
Initial orders will be limited to a minimum of one million units
(with appropriate financing).

When do you anticipate these laptops reaching the market? What
do you see as the biggest hurdles?
Our preliminary schedule is to have units ready for shipment
by the end of 2006 or early 2007. Manufacturing will begin when
5 to 10 million machines have been ordered and paid for in advance.

The biggest hurdle will be manufacturing 100 million of anything.
This is not just a supply-chain problem, but also a design problem.
The scale is daunting, but I find myself amazed at what some
companies are proposing to us. It feels as though at least half
the problems are being solved by mere resolve.

How will this initiative be structured?
The $100 laptop is being developed by One Laptop per Child (OLPC),
an independent, non-profit association based on the "constructionist"
theories of learning pioneered by Seymour Papert and later Alan
Kay. It is totally separate from MIT, with its own board, executives,
location, and staff. Its founding members are AMD, Brightstar,
Google, News Corporation, and Red Hat, all of whom have funded
both OLPC and the MIT Media Lab.

OLPC is funding research at the Media Lab focused on developing
the $100 Laptop.

Nicholas Negroponte is chairman of One Laptop per Child and Mary
Lou Jepsen serves as chief technology officer. Other principals
involved in developing the $100 Laptop are: Walter Bender, Michail
Bletsas, V. Michael Bove, Jr., David Cavallo, Benjamin Mako Hill,
Joseph Jacobson, Alan Kay, Tod Machover, Seymour Papert, Mitchel
Resnick, and Ted Selker.

Design Continuum is collaborating on the laptop design.

November 2005

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