When MIT proposed that it could help bridge the “digital divide” by producing a reliable, rugged laptop at 10 percent the price, we all scoffed. I seem to remember suggesting that we could bridge the divide more easily by taking away our own computers.
True to form, MIT went ahead and did it. A hundred dollars is still out of reach for many in the developing world, but it’s a heck of a lot more attainable than 1200 bucks. This will put more technology in the reach of microcredit loans, a system that has already transformed the opportunities available to entrepreneurs in the developing world.
On a personal note, one Mac Plus carried two siblings and myself through a collective thirteen years of high school without a single hiccup. We ran MS Word off of six floppies back then, but compared with typewriting you felt like a sultan. If these laptops have the power and reliability of even a Mac Plus they could revolutionize life in large parts of the world. (Aside to Uganda: in the original Sim City you could keep taxes at 2% and then hike them to 30% just before tax day. Remember to keep that nuke plant well away from your new stadium.)
For those of you wondering whether MIT is also capable of evil, the answer is most certainly yes. They have the Ig Nobel to prove it.
Or not? A commenter points out that the display remains vaporware. Scoffing will recommence on a preliminary basis.
On their own site, MIT explains the display thusly:
First, by dramatically lowering the cost of the display. The first-generation machine will have a novel, dual-mode display that represents improvements to the LCD displays commonly found in inexpensive DVD players. These displays can be used in high-resolution black and white in bright sunlight—all at a cost of approximately $35.
We invite anybody with relevant knowledge to opine on whether this statement is realistic. Techie flame wars are fine.
Let me be the first Luddite to question the value here. Not that this is all bad, but computers in the class room have been pretty much a dismal failure (for whatever reason).
Um. Tim? You might want to go back and look at the “prototype”.
It has no display.
The single largest piece of a laptop by cost is…the display, and their display story is pie-in-the-sky crap.
MIT continues to move the state of American knowledge forward: Report on the Effectiveness of Tin Foil Hats. (Via Drezner.) If this sort of thing doesn’t make you happy to be an American, I don’t know what will.
But the illustrated prototype in the Fox story did appear to have a display. Where are you getting this?
Luxury….In my day we had a commodore 64 with a broken “e” key and we were damn grateful for it.
I’m a little bit disappointed by the software side of the project. It’s easy to see why the big companies would want to push their products on an enormous new market, but there’s so much overhead in learning and using conventional productivity software like Word, Excel, and so forth, or their open source equivalents. I don’t know if visionary folks like Alan Kay or Ted Nelson are involved with the project, but if they’re not, it’s a missed opportunity to get something out there that breaks existing paradigms for something better.
And that leaves… what, exactly? Lotus 1-2-3? vi?
Personally I don’t think any of the above (Word, Excel, and their equivalents) are necessarily hard to learn, at least not the basics. For Word, you type stuff. Maybe you’ll want to format it too. And of course there’s the whole Windows application File / Save / Edit / Cut / Paste etc. menu/paridigm that crops up in most GUI apps anywhere. For Excel, someone will also need to explain to you about how a spreadsheet works, tabular data, etc. That’s about it. It’s the same for just about any word processor or spreadsheet out there. If you suddenly invent a better paradigm, be sure to share with the rest of the class.
However, I don’t think they’ll be running Windows, and I don’t see them running OpenOffice comfortably in 128MB RAM and with 500Mhz, so I wager that they’ll probably go with something else for those apps.
Hey, I read that novel you wrote!
$35 is a reasonable price for a display…on a $300 product.
Let’s look at the BOM for a laptop computer. Processor. Memory. Power supply. Enclosure. Keyboard. Pointing device. Networking connection. Motherboard. We’ll assume that the computer runs a custom Linux distribution, so there are no per-unit costs for the OS. Since the machine has no disk drive, and stores files in the cloud, a file server, with an associated electrical power supply.
$35 display + $20 non-processor electronics (which is extremely generous — I think that $25 is probably more realistic) + $15 power supply + $10 keyboard/pointing device/enclosure. You’re already at $110, and you haven’t even started looking at the price of the file server or of maintenance, assembly, or distribution — or the $20 CPU!
The thing to know is the Taiwanese OEMs have per-unit margins of a few cents — a dime is a thick margin for them. Laptop’s cost $300 because the BOM for a laptop, Linux, Mac, or Windows, really starts at about $150 — for extremely efficient producers.
This is a fraud.
Oops. I deleted about $45 of expenses: $10 networking link. $5 wireless network chip. $15 graphics processor (yes, you need one, even with a text-only display.) $5-10 motherboard.
Well, there’s Squeak, KidPad, or the Anti-Mac interface, for starters. I was talking about relatively major shifts.
I realize that on the Internets, no one can tell you’re a dog, but I actually do academic research in human-computer interaction and intelligent user interfaces, in real life. No new paradigms yet, but we’re working on it.
A lot of that stuff can be integrated into the mobo these days… I can buy a modern one retail for $27 with integrated audio and networking. — $35 for integrated video as well. Also retail–a CPU for $13. Then do it for cost (or less), and it gets even cheaper.
Heh. I remember that ACM article. :)
Anyhow, now I see your point–you’re also talking about something oriented for kids, which makes a great deal of sense, considering the subject. I think it’s good to have all the conventional tools that everyone uses represented–like a web browser, a word processor, etc.–but yes, there should also be some more friendly, learning-oriented tools included. I’m not sure that there won’t be–but of course I haven’t heard that there will be–such tools.
Once you start integrating everything on one board, its cheap. Networking solution (10/100/1G) for under $2. Using the buying power of an HP or a Dell would drop the prices on most things significantly.
I’d say $100 is do-able, especially with the $35 display.
I wonder how much computer time ten minutes of hand-cranking buys you. It would be cool if you could hook the crank to an old stand-up bike…
Yeah, I have my students read it, and I talk about how the future of computing (I even show them the StarFire video), and then they ask me, “So where is all this stuff?” Um. . .well, we’re working on it. . .
No, you can’t do it for $100. The Chinese OEMs can’t do it for $100 — if they could, it would already be happening. If anyone could do it, they could. I conclude that it is not possible right now.
The boards you’re talking about are multi-layer PCB’s. Those do not last reliably in high-impact, high-dust environments. In order to continue working there, you are going to need to go to components.
Actually, quite a bit — the crank is a pretty good power source. As long as you don’t use the back light.
Of course, ten minutes of cranking is a lot more than it sounds like. It’s a lot of work, particularly for someone without an adult’s frame.
Can you name a single laptop produced today that doesn’t utilize motherboards with integrated video, networking, etc.?
Because I can’t think of one.
I think this is an example of elitist pricks at MIT looking at the world and thinking that the reason poor countries are poor is because they have no computers. Not recognizing that they were poor when they had no televisions, no cars, no telephone.
Sorry, this project is bullshit.
The problems the poor part of the world have is that they have leaders who are morons who like being the richest person in the country and the one way to insure that is to keep everybody poor. The Republican dream, but thank god it doesn’t sell here.
Besides the “three-meters-to-concrete” hardened ones, no. (And you sure ain’t a-gonna see none of those for $100.) There may be a relationship between that and the fact that the average life span of a laptop in regular business use by adults is less than two years.
Well, its more of a vicious cycle really. A Leader impoverishes the country for personal gain. Impoverished citizens lead miserable lives, revolt, search for new leader. Find new leader and elevate him to non-poverty conditions. New leader likes his non-poverty conditions and tries to improve them for himself and his immediate followers. Leader gains support. Leader gains country. Leader realizes there’s not enough to go around for everyone. The Leader impoverishes the country for personal gain.
Except now he gets to micromanage the takeover on nifty new Excel spreadsheets.
Getting rid of the leader doesn’t really work, unless you totally luck out and find a truly benevolent head of state. Infusing tech into the game just lets dictators rule with a silicon fist instead of an iron one. But it does make us feel better. And that did look like a pretty cool labtop. Oh well.
A little heads up, they want to sell them commercially for $200. What would you do with a $200 laptop that you don’t ever have to plug in?
Here’s some recent screen news:
If you can print OLED pixels via ink jet printers, that’s going to drop the cost way, way down. That $35 screen may just be possible after all.
It’s wonderful that these will be given to the poor nations of the world. If MIT had business sense, they’d sell these $100 babies for $150 to Americans and use the profits to produce and improve the ones to be given away.
Not that it matters, I expect someone to cop the design and do their own.
The problems the poor part of the world have is that they have leaders who are morons who like being the richest person in the country and the one way to insure that is to keep everybody poor. The Republican dream, but thank god it doesn’t sell here
The first sentence is correct. While I’m not a Republican and therefore can’t vouch for the accuracy of the second sentence, the kleptocratic phenom you reference applies equally to Castro and Salinas, Collor and Chavez, Putin and Yulia Timoshenko, Mugabe and Bokassa, Shevardnadze and Yeltsin….
If the goal is to help the poorest nations of Africa, then perhaps MIT’s big brains would more profitably be directed to figure out how to build first-rate roads. The 2nd biggest problem (after brutally incompetent kleptocratic governments) these people face is inability ot access, or of distribution networks to enable, centralized providers of food, medicine and education.
The only thing I’m not sure about is Putin and Chavez. I don’t know enough about Chavez to make an informed comment.
And Putin… well my girlfriend is Russian, and she tells me news from home all the time. I still haven’t figured out if Putin’s motives are to crush all competition to him, or if he’s trying to stop oligarchs from taking over the henhouse. That is, Russia is a very corrupt country right now. My girlfriend was telling me that one of the governors of an eastern area of Siberia basically got elected because the govt hadn’t paid salaries to employees, so he offered to do so. That is, he bribed everybody in other words. The reason he could do so was because he had gotten control of a bunch of oil or something when the USSR collapsed.
It’s going to be years before that’s all straighted out. I get the impression at times that he is trying to stop corruption. We’ll see long term, I guess.
One thing about Russians… You can’t take what they say at face value.
As Teddy Roosevelt noted from his negotiating the Russo-Japanese war:
The best place for these laptops, if MIT, through OLPC, does manage to get away from influence by anti-trust companies and actually starts this project, are the middle countries, thinking of people’s general way of living; for example, countries like Russia (probably the most important), Israel, Poland, Brazil, China, Romania, Mexico and many others, which have potentially very smart people (especially russians). Countries like USA, Cananda, and the whole of Western Europe and South East Asia should be left last, because they have been having the leading technologies forever…it’s time for the smaller countries to rise…
As for the poor countries (like those in Africa, except, perhaps, Egypt and a few others), I hope that OLPC doesn’t make the mistake to send laptops here..it would be a loss (I think) and, anyway, poor people would rather have a piece of bread rather than a hand-crank powered $100 laptop…
But we shall wait and see if we will, indeed, get a $100 laptop instead of books and notebooks (i am a high-school student in Romania by the way :)) ).
NO MATTER WHAT, THIS IS AN INCREDIBLE TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH!