Missing: One Small Tech Part to Help Kids


Nicholas Negroponte is making good on his One Laptop Per Child Project promise.

When the idea was pitched at the 2005 World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, Negroponte says his proposal for a $100 laptop aimed at children in developing nations was shot down: “it was as if the tech world’s supermoguls were glowering down on him in judgment. Over the course of the year, Craig Barrett, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs weighed in, privately declining support and in some cases publicly disparaging the idea.”

Fast forward to this week, when Negroponte announced that the sub-$100 laptop will launch two years ahead of schedule and cost even less ($75) than envisioned, but still needs some key features in order to achieve its goals of narrowing the digital divide.[more]

Negroponte’s nonprofit organization is using Marvell’s Moby design currently selling for $99, and reconfiguring it to create the promised $75 laptop. Running on Android, although OLPC is open to other operating systems, it will have a dual-mode screen, be backlit, and switch to a static display as needed so the outdoor-indoor reading predicament is solved.

What’s still missing: an all-important power source function that would let the device be powered by a hand crank, if need be, for use in rural areas without reliable electricity. This version will only need one watt to operate.

If anybody can deliver on the promise to make laptops universally available to a world where Web access is perhaps the key distinguishing factor in competitive advantage for the next generation, it’s Negroponte.

The founder of MIT’s famed Media Lab (an OLPC partner) is devoting his life to designing, manufacturing and distributing laptops, so that access to computer skills and the Web doesn’t hold back any child.

Here’s hoping this next version, the XO-3, proves to be the golden ticket that gives the world’s less fortunate kids a chance at a brighter future.