Personal Computers

MIT Creates $100 Laptop for Kids in Developing Nations

MIT researchers are forging ahead with plans to put US$100 laptops into the hands of the world’s children.

A prototype of the low-cost laptop is due in November, but Negroponte showed off blueprints at the Emerging Technologies conference at MIT this week.

MIT Media Lab leader Nicholas Negroponte said his nonprofit One Laptop Per Child organization will distribute 5 million to 15 million of the machines in production within a year to children in Brazil, China, Egypt, Thailand and South Africa. Negroponte has a vision to produce 100 million to 150 million being made in the second year.

“Sadly, most educational systems that recognize the important need for computers, meet that need with a roomful of desktops, to which a child might go for a few hours per week,” Negroponte said. “Computing should be like a pencil, you have your own — versus community pencils — and use it for all kinds of purposes, related to school, home, work and play.”

Rugged Machine

The brainchild of Negroponte, the $100 laptop will be a full-color, full-screen portable computer that uses the cost-free Linux operating system. It will be rugged and powered by wind-up and other innovative sources of electricity for use in remote places.

It will come enabled for wireless and cell phone Internet access, and “have USB ports galore” to accommodate potential additional peripheral devices such as a printer. Its current specifications are: 500 megahertz (processor speed), one gigabyte of memory, and an XVGA display. (Click here to view images of the $100 laptop on MIT’s Technology Review Web site.)

Negroponte said while desktops can be made more cheaply than laptops, the latter’s mobility is important: “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.”

Negroponte said the $100 laptop will accomplish “almost everything” possible with an expensive computer. However, “what it will not do is store a massive amount of data.”The $100 machines will not be sold to individuals but instead be distributed through ministries of education with initial orders limited to a minimum one million units.

Market Danger?

Enderle Group principal analyst Rob Enderle told LinuxInsider that if these $100 laptops were widely adopted, it could collapse prices of computers even further. However, he added, the numbers and the timeline Negroponte cited are both overly aggressive.

“The production figures he is citing are well ahead of the current manufacturing technology currently,” Enderle said. “They are talking about numbers that exceed the manufacturing capacity of the segment by a couple of times.”

Enderle said Tier 1 laptop vendors don’t have anything to worry about just yet. There is a long way to go before the $100 laptop becomes viable. Besides production capacity, there are questions of user education and simple electricity.

Unanticipated Problems

Analysts said after the first 1,000 of these $100 laptops roll out, its inventors could discover a series of unanticipated problems that dramatically lengthen overall deployment.

“It’s generally well advised to set your numbers low and then exceed them so you can talk about your success. When you set them this high it’s going to look like they had an astronomical failure, even though what they are accomplishing is actually quite amazing,” Enderle said.

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