One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has launched an initative to develop a $100 laptop for children in developing countries just a bit over a year ago. So far I hadn’t seen any photos (maybe my fault), and I hadn’t really checked out the project closely either (definitively my fault). There are plenty of photos in the Pete Barr-Watson’s flickr pool.
This is really amazing. First of all, access to computers is a huge opportunity for kids to learn and to learn learning, too. That goes for developing countries as much as for developed countries, if not more. Second, computers used to be, sort of by definition, plainly inaffordable for the poor in developing countries. Sporadic access to community access centers, i.e. shared computers, doesn’t change much in that respect. And third, I really like that OLPC actually recognizes that it’s important and educational for a child to own something and to take care of it. From the FAQ:
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.
What is the $100 Laptop, really? The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, with a dual-mode displayâ€”both a full-color, transmissive DVD mode, and a second display option that is black and white reflective and sunlight-readable at 3Ã— 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.
And – my personal favorite! – connectivity:
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.
You can power them by crank and they’re meshing. Come on, how cool is that? (I wish my computer would mesh out of the box…!)
Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, is behind the $100 laptop. He announced the initiative in January 2005. Now, that’s a pretty impressive schedule, non? As far as development work goes, this is one that’ll teach us a big lesson. If the project kicks off well, this may really be one of those projects that change the world.
Also, if every school kid has access to a laptop, then virtually every household has access to the computer, too. With all the computers meshing, that makes for some awesome possibilities. E-democracy and citizen journalism are just two out of many, many potential apps there…