Bridging the Digital Divide, One Laptop at a Time
It was a little over thirty years ago when Bill Gates and partner Paul Allen set out to do what was then considered little more than a dream - to have "a computer on every desk and in every home". This seemed an immensely lofty goal to accomplish at the time - something left to fantasies of the "distant future" along with hover cars and jetpacks. And while we're still a long way away from having personal jetpacks, we have come extremely close to Mr. Gates' ultimate goal. Enter Nicholas Negroponte. In the last decade of computing, few have had bolder dreams than he, let alone putting them into action. Nicholas Negroponte's goal is to build a $100 laptop that can be produced and distributed to developing countries to aid in children's education.
Of course, the notion of digital inclusion, that is, the widening of access to digital technology, is certainly not a new idea. AMD, for example, has been working on its 50x15 campaign, a mission to allow for affordable Internet connectivity for 50% of the world by the year 2015. So in this sense, Nicholas Negroponte is not alone in his beliefs as to how technology can aid in education and in turn the development of a country. What makes the One Laptop Per Child project so unique is both the scale of the project and the feasibility of the its completion. In fact, working prototypes have already been developed (currently the XO-B3 laptop), and the cost per laptop is relatively close to its $100 goal. And while the beneficial nature of digital inclusion can be debated many times over, one cannot argue the fact that the technologies developed for this project can certainly be beneficial outside of the project, if not within it.
In addition to the low cost, there are many more requirements that the XO laptop needs to fulfill due to the environment in which it will be used. It needs to be able to provide an active connection to the internet regardless of its location, operate in locations that may or may not have electricity, and at the same time be kid-friendly in its interface. Furthermore, it must be able to endure extreme temperatures, and stand up to a lot of punishment from both nature and child alike. All in all, it must be durable and robust while at the same time keeping cost at a minimum - two contradictory objectives.
Can one laptop truly change the futures of children around the world?
Image from the OLPC Wiki