Friday, September 30, 2005

MIT getting close to the $100 laptop

Last night Sunshine and I had dinner at Michael and Fran Nelson's house to see their new baby! We spent most of the night talking about how much we need to get off the computers and spend more time in the real world with our families... no sooner had Sunshine and I gotten home, and Michael had sent me an email with the latest news on MIT's $100 laptops! Jeez Mike, you do have it bad.

Images from MIT Media

ITworld recently posted on the progress:

The 500MHz laptop will run a "skinny version" of the open-source Linux operating system. It will have a two-mode screen, so it can be viewed in color and then by pushing a button or activating software switch to a black-and-white display, which can be viewed in bright sunlight at four times normal resolution, according to Negroponte. He estimates the display will cost around $35.

The laptop can be powered either with an AC adapter or via a wind-up crank, which is stored in the housing of the laptop where the hinge is located. The laptops will have a 10 to 1 crank rate, so that a child will crank the handle for one minute to get 10 minutes of power and use. When closed, the hinge forms a handle and the AC cord can function as a carrying strap, according to Negroponte. The laptops will be ruggedized and probably made of rubber, he said. They will have four USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports, be Wi-Fi- and cell phone enabled and come with 1G byte of memory.

Each laptop will act as a node in a mesh peer-to-peer ad hoc network, Negroponte said, meaning that if one laptop is directly accessing the Internet, when other machines power on, they can share that single online connection.

The lab will initially target Brazil, China, Egypt, South Africa and Thailand, according to Negroponte, as well as the U.S. state of Massachusetts, which has just committed to equipping every schoolchild with a laptop. Negroponte hopes to start mass production of some 5 million to 15 million laptops for those markets towards the end of 2006. Come December 2007, he estimated production of the laptops at between 100 million and 150 million, three times the number of annual shipments of commercial laptops.

But MIT's media lab makes it plainly clear that:
Please note: these laptops are not in production. They are not, and will not, be available for purchase by individuals.

WHY THE HELL NOT! Could it be that MIT want to see Governments take responsibility for closing digital divides? Somehow I can't see any Australian Government waking up to this in less than 10 - 15 years! "Linux!", they'll say "we don't support Linux"...

From what I can tell by flicking through the blogs there appears to be nothing but praise and good words about the prospect of a $100 laptop for the kids. I can't wait!! Literally can not wait! There must be some way we could achieve the same here in Australia within 3 - 4 years. It'd probably take longer than that for the MIT ones to reach us.

MIT hints on how they do it:

  1. First, by dramatically lowering the cost of the display. The first-generation machine may use a novel, dual-mode LCD display commonly found in inexpensive DVD players, but that can also be used in black and white, in bright sunlight, and at four times the normal resolution, all at a cost of approximately $35.
  2. Second, we will get the fat out of the systems. Today's laptops have become obese. Two-thirds of their software is used to manage the other third, which mostly does the same functions nine different ways.
  3. Third, we will market the laptops in very large numbers (millions), directly to ministries of education, which can distribute them like textbooks.

We in Australia may not be able to pump them out in the millions, but what will that mean? $200 laptops? Let's get started.

No publicly educated Australian person need be without a laptop by 2007.

1 comment:

Emma said...

The images etc. on the MIT page look good, though, I'm sure that those keys look remarkably similar to the rubber Zx Spectrum keys!

Seriously though, it looks like a really good idea - and fantastic to have it both at that cost, and, more to the point, that much flexibility.

The tablet & handwriting options will be, I think, particularly useful for countries like India, where children will be learning to read/write in Urdu etc, with its alphabet.