After years of planning and much anticipation, 2007 looks to be the year the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project begins distributing its ground-breaking, $100 portable computers to children in developing countries.
A spinoff of MIT labs founded by Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC aims to give the world’s poorest children access to a valuable learning tool at a low cost. Unlike other laptops, the so-called XO machines will be cheap to manufacture, energy efficient and run on an open-source operating system called Sugar. Developed from the ground up for kids with no prior computer-use experience, Sugar eschews folders and windows in favour of icons and simple networking that encourage collaboration and task-based file retrieval.
The machines themselves will have no hard drive (just external memory) and a dual-mode display that can appear in black-and-white monochrome and is readable in sunlight with very little power use. They will be sturdy and adaptable for different uses, and OLPC boasts that they will be able to do everything a regular computer can do except store large amounts of data.
But perhaps the most exciting part of the project is how the computers will find their way into children’s hands. Instead of selling them directly to users, OLPC is working with ministries of education, who will buy them in bulk and distribute them to children like textbooks. The XO machines will be the child’s to keep. Brazil, Nigeria and Pakistan are among the countries already involved, and this week Rwanda also signed on to the initiative. Children in these countries and others are slated to begin testing the computers and operating system by the middle of this year.
It’s an exciting project, and it’s gaining momentum. Popular Science magazine included OLPC in its Best of What’s New 2006, and partners in the project include Google, Red Hat, and News Corp.