The XO free laptop program (one laptop per child)

The much-fabled $100 laptop is almost ready to go into production. The plan was to create an inexpensive laptop, rugged and resilient to heat, cold, humidity, and tumbling about, and get governments to pay to distribute them to children in the world’s poorest nations, so that they could access the education that the internet provides. The initial production costs are running about $188, however, and they haven’t gotten a single government buyer yet.

And so a new strategy emerges: Sell the laptops to people in the US, with a matching program — you buy one for your kid here, and one for a child in another country. The program is called “Give 1 Get 1.” Originally, XO had no plans at all to sell or distribute the computers in the U.S. It’s banking on Americans buying them and sending matching laptops to countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, and Rwanda. The program will run for two weeks, starting November 12th. $399 will buy two laptops - one for themselves, and one shipped to a child in those four countries. In addition to getting a pretty cool little laptop for basically $400, half of your purchase is tax-deductible.

Also, customers can simply elect to “give” a laptop with a $200 donation. Participation info is at the website The machines are scheduled to ship to U.S. customers in January or February of 2008.

Laptops require electrical power, of course, which isn’t always easy to come by. These laptops, however, can be charged BY HAND! According to the manufacturer’s website, they will come with at least two of three options: a crank, a pedal, or a pull-cord. I saw a news report that also mentioned the possibility of solar panels.

Because the laptop components most likely to fail are the hard drive and internal connectors, XO has no hard drive to crash and only two internal cables.

Also cool: the laptop is also a camera, and can capture both video and still images.

Highlighted features from the OLPC website:

XO creates its own mesh network out of the box. Each machine is a full-time wireless router. Children in the most remote regions of the globe—as well as their teachers and families—will be connected both to one another and to the Internet.

It features a 7.5 inch, 1200×900 pixel, TFT screen and self-refreshing display with higher resolution (200 DPI) than 95 percent of the laptops on the market today. Two display modes are available: a transmissive, full-color mode, and a reflective, high-resolution mode that is sunlight readable. Both consume very little power: the transmissive mode consumes one watt—about one seventh of the average LCD power consumption in a laptop; the reflective mode consumes a miserly 0.2 watts.

The laptop selectively suspends operation of its CPU, which makes possible even more remarkable power savings. The laptop nominally consumes less than two watts—less than one tenth of what a standard laptop consumes—so little that XO can be recharged by human power. This is a critical advance for the half-billion children who have no access to electricity.

My big question, though — how are these kids going to get on the internet?? The answer, from the OLPC Wiki:

The XO has been designed to provide the most engaging wireless network available. The laptops are connected to each other, even when they are off. If one laptop is connected to the Internet, the others will follow to the web. The children in the neighborhood are thus permanently connected to chat, share information on the web, gather by videoconference, make music together, edit texts, read e-books and enjoy the use of collaborative games on line.

The battery of the laptop can work for many hours and it can be charged in special gang chargers in the school or by mechanical or solar power. The unique XO display allows the use of the laptop under a bright sun, enabling the user to work outside the classroom or home, in the wild as well as in any public open place.

The connectivity will be as ubiquitous as the formal or informal learning environment permits. We are proposing a new kind of school, an “expanded school” which grows well beyond the walls of the classroom. And last but not least this connectivity ensures a dialogue among generations, nations and cultures. Every language will be spoken in the OLPC network.

When we talk together we stay together.

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