A Laptop in Every Pot

I’ve been a fan of Nicholas Negroponte (founder and former Director of the Media Lab at MIT) ever since the early 90s when he helped start WIRED magazine and helped start the world on the notion that anything that can be digital, will be digital (“Move Bits, not Atoms”). His most recent endeavor is the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) initiative. You may know it as the operation to give $100 laptops to kids in developing nations that was first announced a few years ago. Well, it’s been released. It’s on sale. And I have to tell you, from what I’ve seen thus far, it is an absolutely brilliant implementation of a technology idea that I’ve seen in a while – and that’s coming form an “Apple Guy”.

This laptop was designed to be used by kids in remote environments so it’s rugged and uses very little power (and can be charged by solar or kinetically – e.g. your foot). Additionally, it is built to be used by kids, modified by kids, and repaired by kids so the parts and complexity were kept to a minimum and the OS is vastly simplified – but it also has other functions and features that mainstream laptops can’t touch:

  • 200 dpi screen resolution;
  • reflective high-resolution screen that is sunlight readable and consumes 0.2 watts;
  • sealed rubber keyboard;
  • no hard drive;
  • dual wi-fi antennae that double as port covers yielding better range than most of today’s laptops;
  • can be charged directly from car batteries as well as a variety of other sources;
  • no heavy metals or other contaminants in any of the components, including the NiMH batteries;
  • estimated product lifetime of 5 years.

The operating system is based on Linux, but a completely new interface called SUGAR was put over the top that is completely geared towards teaching kids. It’s simple without being childish. Words on the screen for navigation are few and far between (remember, this is destined for kids that speak a myriad number of languages but are still learning to read languages). It’s somewhat indescribable, I highly suggest going here to see what I’m talking about.

The applications are all open source and include the usual activities of word processing, web surfing, drawing, music making, and programming (Smalltalk & Python) -geared towards kids. But there are a few surprises too like an oscilloscope, a music programming language, still, video, & audio capture, and the ability to measure the distance between you and another OLPC user via sound. Pretty cool! There is also the ability to add to your activity library through downloads.

Now I’ve never held one of these, but the early reviews have been glowing from what I’ve heard. Very solid. A kid’s laptop that’s not a toy. Brilliant!