After five years of designing, collaborating and innovating, the $100 laptop is scheduled to hit the streets this October.
The journey has been longer than expected for the semi-controversial One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization. Some critics thought that such a cheap device couldn't offer the technology or durability required to be beneficial. Others pointed out that the target third-world countries had more pressing problems, such as starvation, dehydration and disease.
But the OLPC sees the endeavor not as a gift of modern technology, but rather as an educational initiative and "an expression of global solidarity." One can argue whether or not the project is naively idealistic, but its first stage--that of achieving the actual product--seems to be a success.
The laptop will actually cost $176 at first, but the organization predicts that the price will drop to the target $100 as manufacturing and improvements are integrated. The first laptops have already been purchased per an agreement, although which countries they're for is still confidential.
The technology of the machines is impressive, even to critics. The innovative "XO" device is designed to run on less than 10% of the power required by an ordinary laptop. The software, memory, and screen are all designed to minimize energy consumption. The required power is so low, in fact, that the battery-run XO can be recharged with solar cells, or human-operated foot pumps or pull-string chargers, and last four times as long as an average battery.
Since many children don't have indoor classrooms, the engineers also designed the XO screen to be visible in direct sunlight, unlike normal computer screens. The device is also waterproof when closed (with a handle for carrying), and can withstand extremely high temperatures. The laptop has been dropped from 5 feet and dunked in water for 10 minutes with no effect.
Wi-fi antennas, or "rabbit ears," at the top of the screen boost wireless reception to more than a mile. However, the devices will rarely use this range because only one computer needs to have Internet reception (typically at the school), and the others can share, forming a "mesh netowork." Even in the absence of an Internet connection, the XOs can still communicate with their nearby neighbors.
Children can use the XO to play games, read e-books, draw, create music, download PDFs, and even video chat. A small camera to the side of the screen films the user's face when chatting, and can also be used to take pictures. USB ports enable the possibility for hooking up an ordinary keyboard (the built-in one is scaled to children's hands), mouse, or other peripherals.
The XO uses a Linux operating system, which is open source software that allows users to alter and access the code. The designers hope that some inquisitive children may tinker with the code and develop new programs.
"For a lot of these children, it's their only book and we want them to have a first-class reading experience," said Walter Bender, head of software development at OLPC.
The technology has been so successful that other companies are interested in using some of the new techniques developed by OLPC--such as the ultra low-power LCD screen. Hopefully, implementation of the laptop will give the technology the opportunity to be embraced to its full potential.
via: BBC News