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Author Topic: '$100 laptop' production begins  (Read 981 times) Average Rating: 0
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Fr. George
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« on: July 23, 2007, 04:41:41 PM »

 By Jonathan Fildes
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6908946.stm

Five years after the concept was first proposed, the so-called $100 laptop is poised to go into mass production.

Hardware suppliers have been given the green light to ramp-up production of all of the components needed to build millions of the low-cost machines.

Previously, the organisation behind the scheme said that it required orders for 3m laptops to make production viable.

The first machines should be ready to put into the hands of children in developing countries in October 2007.

"There's still some software to write, but this is a big step for us," Walter Bender, head of software development at One Laptop per Child (OLPC), told the BBC News website.

The organisation has not said which countries have bought the first machines.

Silencing critics

Getting the $100 laptop to this stage has been a turbulent journey for the organisation and its founder Nicholas Negroponte.

Since the idea was first put forward in 2002, the low-cost laptop has been both lauded and ridiculed.

Intel chairman Craig Barret famously described it as a "$100 gadget" whilst Microsoft founder Bill Gates questioned its design, particularly the lack of hard drive and its "tiny screen".

Other critics asked whether there was a need for a laptop in countries which, they said, had more pressing needs such as sanitation, water and health care.

Professor Negroponte's response has always been the same: "It's an education project, not a laptop project."

The view was shared by Kofi Annan, ex-secretary General of the UN. In 2005, he described the laptop as an "expression of global solidarity" that would "open up new fronts" for children's education.

And as time passed, even some of the critics have changed their stance. Earlier this month, Intel, which manufactures what was considered a rival machine, the Classmate PC, joined forces with OLPC.

Functional design

The innovative design of the XO machine has also drawn praise from the technical community.

Using open source software, OLPC have developed a stripped-down operating system which fits comfortably on the machine's 1GB of memory.

"We made a set of trade-offs which may not be an office worker's needs but are more than adequate for what kids need for learning, exploring and having fun," said Professor Bender.

The XO is built to cope with the harsh and remote conditions found in areas where it may be used, such as the deserts of Libya or the mountains of Peru.

For example, it has a rugged, waterproof case and is as energy efficient as possible.

"The laptop needs an order of magnitude less power than a typical laptop," said Professor Bender. "That means you can power it by solar or human power."

Governments that sign up for the scheme can purchase solar, foot-pump or pull-string powered chargers for the laptop.

And because it may be used in villages without access to a classroom, it has also been designed to work outside. In particular, the green and white machines feature a sunlight-readable display.

"For a lot of these children it's their only book and we want them to have a first class reading experience," said Professor Bender.

Name drop

The XO will be produced in Taiwan by Quanta, the world's largest laptop manufacturer.

The final design will bring together more than 800 parts from multiple suppliers such as chip-maker AMD, which supplies the low-power processor at the heart of the machine.

"This is the moment we have all been waiting for," Gustavo Arenas of AMD told the BBC News website.

"We certainly believe very strongly in the mission and vision of OLPC so finally starting to see it come to fruition is not only gratifying, it is also rewarding."

Test machines, on which the final design is based, are currently being put through their paces by OLPC.

"We keep laptops in the oven at 50 degrees and they keep on running," said Professor Bender.

Field testing is also being done in countries such as Nigeria and Brazil.

However, the names of the governments that have purchased the first lots of machines have not been released.

The XO currently costs $176 (£90) although the eventual aim is to sell the machines to governments for $100 (£50).

========================================================================

I'm glad they're trying to spread this technology to developing nations in order to aid educational efforts there.  If this is teamed with the various efforts of charitable organizations to increase food and water supply, it will have a huge impact.
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ytterbiumanalyst
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« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2007, 04:54:36 PM »

I'm glad they're trying to spread this technology to developing nations in order to aid educational efforts there.  If this is teamed with the various efforts of charitable organizations to increase food and water supply, it will have a huge impact.

Absolutely. Education always raises the standard of living for those who receive it and put it to good use. Not that technology can replace good teachers, but it certainly can help.
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Fr. George
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« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2007, 05:57:14 PM »

Absolutely. Education always raises the standard of living for those who receive it and put it to good use. Not that technology can replace good teachers, but it certainly can help.

Well, and I wonder how many of these kids that will receive this laptop will be in areas with (a) not enough teachers, (b) low-quality teachers, or (c) ill-equipped teachers (i.e. not enough books, materials, etc.).

I was also glad to hear that they tried their best to make this model work in areas of harsh climate, insufficient electrical supply, and nontraditional teaching locations.
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ytterbiumanalyst
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« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2007, 09:41:53 AM »

Well, this is an attempt to correct (c), but you're right about the other two, especially (a). Teaching is an undervalued, underpaid profession; unfortunately, many of the most qualified pass it up for this reason.
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Fr. George
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« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2007, 10:04:27 AM »

Well, this is an attempt to correct (c), but you're right about the other two, especially (a). Teaching is an undervalued, underpaid profession; unfortunately, many of the most qualified pass it up for this reason.

You also have the phenomenon of qualified teachers in these countries being grabbed by the Universities to increase their profile.  Theoretically it makes sense - the best teachers should be training the future teachers - but in the short-term it means a shortage of competent teachers for the villages and towns.
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ytterbiumanalyst
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« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2007, 10:18:21 AM »

Yep. Happens even in this country; many of my professors only taught for five or eight years in a K-12 school before going on to the university.
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"It is remarkable that what we call the world...in what professes to be true...will allow in one man no blemishes, and in another no virtue."--Charles Dickens
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