The Orange $100 Laptop

Dreaming Dept.

Here’s something to think about on a cloudy Sunday morning: A great, cheap laptop for the world’s kids. The latest iteration of the “One Laptop per Child Project” is an orange plastic laptop with stubby bunny ears and a big handle. (Image @ left is from the OPLC website). Target price is $100 dollars or less and the target audience is third world kids who’d otherwise never have access to the technology. The project originated as the brainchild of Nicholas Negreponte, the head of the MIT Media Lab, an interesting institution in its own right. The project has gathered a wide range of advocates and participants who have designed and developed it using the classic open source model.

The not-for-profit collaboration is a great example of what might be possible if people decide to push for what’s possible and valuable about new technologies without getting to involved with what makes for big profits.

The developers are having a lot of fun building in sensible features that commercial developers don’t see how they can make money off–and hence haven’t pursued. They’re looking at new-style screens that have both color and a black and white, low power, readable in the sunlight, e-book mode. Each one will be capable of participating together a “spontaneous” mesh WiFi network. The screen swivels to show your neighbors what’s going on, and folds down for use as a tablet or e-book. There’s no hard drive–only flash memory. It is being put together to making hardware hacking easy and it’s built on an all open-source basis. The list could go on–and interested readers are encouraged to dig in and fantasize about what they are their community could do with such a device at a $100 price point.

You have to think that an off-shoot of this project would make a great addition to American schools. As a former teacher and ed tech prof I can say with fair confidence that one of the major reasons that newer technologies aren’t integrated into US schools is that no teacher can assume their students have ready access to the technologies involved. Something like this is cheap enough and useful enough to be worth making truly ubiquitous–and that would allow free teachers to make really creative use of information technologies.

And yes, as always, Lafayette will make a good place to start. The missing piece in this equation so far is net connectivity and adequate bandwidth to supply the implied large percentage of users in a population. Much of what anyone would want to do or teach is web-based. It’s easy to see how that ubiquitous connectivity to such laptops for kids could be supplied in Lafayette as part of the school system–if we chose to exert our imagination and efforts in that direction.