One laptop per child

It’s not often in life that one meets someone who is truly charismatic and inspirational, but this week I was fortunate to hear Nicholas Negroponte speak at an event in Westminster entitled “Parliament & The Internet ” and he totally capivated his audience with his enthusiasm and sincerity. He flew over that morning from the United States and was flying back that evening, but that afternoon he was with us to talk about his project for One Laptop per Child (OLPC).
The mission of the OLPC movement is to ensure that all school-aged children in the developing world are able to engage effectively with their own personal laptop, networked to the world. This has involved developing a unique computer with very special characteristics and an incredible price of around $100 a unit. It does not require a power source, it can be powered up by a child, it works in the sun, it connects to the Internet, and it uses open source software.
For me personally, the story started in 1995 when I read “Being Digital” by Negroponte [my review here]. Then, in 2000, I actually met the guy at a dot com launch in London and he signed his book for me. Then I blogged about the One Laptop per Child project when it was first launched two years ago [my posting here].
In his fluent and unscripted address, Negroponte called the laptop “such a cute and sexy device” but insisted that “We are not a laptop project – we are an education project”. The laptop will be launched in the next few weeks, but he brought one along to the meeting and passed it around for us to play with. The plan is to ship 5-10M computers in 2008 and 50-100M in 2009.
I took a photograph of the laptop with my mobile:

A colleague took a picture of me trying out the laptop:

An interesting story: Negroponte was asked about the green colour of the laptop which it was assumed reflected his wish that the project was ecologically sound. Well, no, said the man. Following support at a critical time from the then President of the Nigeria, Negroponte decided that the laptop would bear that country’s national colours of green and white
There’s a lot of cynicism around but, if this project succeeds (as I believe it will), in a few years time Negroponte will be collecting the Nobel prize for peace.


  • Esther Namugoji

    I think the OLPC project is in good spirit. However, there are many in Africa for whom a laptop connected to the rest of the world is the least of their problems. The very poor who are given a laptop would sooner sell it cheaply to get money for food.
    There are cases in Uganda where women made wedding dresses out of donated mosquito nets, while others sold them, and some used them for fishing.

  • mavis

    I support Water Aid – its so essential and a village having a well dug and/or a pump installed makes more sense to me than anything else.

  • Danny Bloom

    Here’s more:
    from AP wire news:
    The project that hopes to supply developing-world schoolchildren with US$188 laptops will sell the rugged little computers to US residents and Canadians for US$400 each, with the profit going toward a machine for a poor country.
    The One Laptop Per Child project expects that its “Give One, Get One” promotion will result in a pool of thousands of donated laptops that will stimulate demand in countries hesitant to join the program. It will be offered for only two weeks in November.
    Originally conceived as the “US$100 laptop,” the funky green-and-white low-power “XO” computers now cost US$188. The laptops’ manufacturer, Quanta Computer Inc, is beginning mass production next month — but with far fewer than the 3 million orders One Laptop Per Child director Nicholas Negroponte had said he was waiting for.
    Negroponte said the availability of donated laptops would not be the sole condition for many countries weighing whether to place multimillion-dollar orders.
    But “it just triggers it,” he said. “It makes it all happen faster.”
    By opening sales to people in the US and Canada at, “Give One, Get One” will delight computing aficionados, because the XO is unlike any other laptop.
    It has a homegrown user interface designed for children, boasts built-in wireless networking, uses very little power and can be recharged by hand with a pulley or a crank. Its display has separate indoor and outdoor settings so it can be read in full sunlight, something even expensive laptops lack.
    The machines use the Linux open-source system and do not run Windows. Negroponte expects that to be possible soon, but Microsoft Corp insists it cannot guarantee that, given the machine’s idiosyncratic specs.
    The catch is that “Give One, Get One” will run only from Nov. 12 to Nov. 26.
    Negroponte said the limited availability is partly necessary so the nonprofit doesn’t run afoul of tax laws, but mainly designed to create scarcity-induced excitement.
    “We need that burst,” he said.
    Just the first 25,000 buyers will be promised delivery of their XOs by the Christmas season. Everyone else will be on a pace reminiscent of the old Sears Roebuck catalog, with the computer probably arriving in January.
    Then again, most buyers figure to be motivated more by the “Give One” aspect than the “Get One” part. Negroponte said that dynamic is beginning to pervade the program, with several poor countries finding that richer governments are willing to act as sponsors.
    For example, Italy is buying all 50,000 XOs that Ethiopia will get in the program’s first wave. Now Negroponte is trying to encourage similar arrangements with governments in Europe and Asia, with Pakistan and Afghanistan among the possible recipients. Megabillionaire Carlos Slim is expected to purchase 25,000 XOs and lend them to Mexican children.
    Thailand, Uruguay, Nigeria, Brazil, Libya and Rwanda are among the countries that could be in the first wave of laptop customers, though specifics have not been announced.
    Given all the innovations in the XO and the discussions it has inspired about computers in education, One Laptop Per Child — a spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — can claim significant achievements.
    However, Negroponte hoped to be further along by now.
    In September 2005, he was saying that 5 million to 15 million machines might be in production last year, with perhaps 100 million out by now. In April last year, he foresaw 5 million to 10 million XOs dotting the landscape this year.
    Now 250,000 to 300,000 are due to be made by the end of this year. Negroponte expects that to ramp up to 1 million a month next year, though he still lacks signed orders for that many.
    One reason things may have gone slower than predicted is One Laptop Per Child’s impending emergence awoke commercial vendors to the promise of a low-cost international educational market.
    Governments considering buying XOs for their youngsters have multiple options in the US$200 range — including more conventional computers that can run Windows. Negroponte acknowledges the absence of Windows led Russia to say no.
    One of the laptop program’s unabashed admirers is Miguel Brechner, who runs a government-funded technology group in Uruguay. Brechner has been overseeing a test of 200 XOs in a Uruguayan village and believes the laptops have stimulated collaboration and raised expectations for children. He expects to buy many more XOs as Uruguay soon begins to outfit all 400,000 of its primary schoolchildren with laptops.