Dream of one laptop per child starts to deliver

Low-cost computers meant to usher poor children worldwide into the digital age are being mass-produced in China as United States non-profit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) strives to deliver on its promise.

The first of the XO laptops being built at a Quanta Computer facility in Changshu are destined for Uruguay, marking a milestone for the charity group founded by Nicholas Negroponte in Massachusetts two years ago.

”Against all the naysayers … we have developed and now manufactured the world’s most advanced and greenest laptop and one designed specifically to instil a passion for learning in children,” Negroponte said.

A challenge for the organisation has been that governments have not backed effusive words of support with willing flows of cash to buy laptops for children inside their borders.

It is hoped that a ”Give One Get One” (G1G1) campaign starting on Monday will boost orders by providing an incentive to people in more prosperous countries.

For every laptop donated for a child, the donor gets a laptop. The original price was to be $100 per laptop but nearly doubled as costs climbed after Negroponte launched the initiative in 2005.

Telecom firm T-Mobile USA is offering people a year of free access to its nearly 8 500 wireless internet hot spots in the US if they become G1G1 donors.

The world’s largest video-game maker, Electronic Arts in northern California, said this week it is giving the original SimCity to OLPC to put on laptops for free.

The SimCity franchise debuted in 1989. Players build communities from scratch, laying out roads, housing, factories, shops, tax codes, power plants and more in order to create places where citizens can work and live happily. Acting as virtual ”mayors”, players must be ready to deal with disasters such as earthquakes, fires and floods.

”Players learn to use limited resources to build and customise their cities,” said Electronic Arts vice-president Steve Seabolt. ”There are choices and consequences, but in the end, it’s a creativity tool. The game should prove to be an incredibly effective way of making the laptop relevant, engaging and fun.” SimCity has been used in US schools.

The list of companies backing OLPC with cash, technology or other resources includes Google, Intel, eBay, Advance Micro Devices and News Corporation.

XO laptop operating systems are based on free open-source software. The machines are designed to use less than one-10th the power of standard laptops and come with solar or hand-crank-charging options.

XO laptops are billed as a ”kids’ machine” designed for rugged environments. The computers have built-in video and still cameras as well as wireless internet connectivity.

OLPC will begin distributing XO laptops in Uruguay, Peru, Mexico, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Haiti, Cambodia and India by the end of the year, according to Electronic Arts.

Negroponte is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who is the younger brother of the US deputy secretary of state.

OLPC’s stated mission is ”to design, manufacture and distribute laptop computers that are sufficiently affordable to provide every child in the world access to new channels of learning, sharing and self-expression”.

The group envisions selling laptops to governments in developing nations, which give them to school-aged children and have stakes in supporting their use.

”Imagine the impact of every child owning a laptop computer that he/she can use in school and take home,” OLPC said in a written release. ”By empowering children to educate themselves, a new generation will ultimately be better prepared to tackle the other serious problems (poverty, malnutrition, disease) facing their societies.” — Sapa-AFP

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Glenn Chapman
Glenn Chapman
AFP technology correspondent

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