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    $100 Laptop Redesign

    by Aaditeshwar Seth
    July 3, 2008

    A new laptop design for the one-laptop-per-child project is being worked out. They have removed the keyboard and replaced it by a touch screen. This turns into a touch sensitive keyboard during normal operation, and the laptop can be used as an e-book reader otherwise. The price is $75, which sounds too good to be true.

    I used to be very critical of the OLPC project during its earlier stages because I could not understand the rationale behind giving a personal laptop to each child, instead of having them access a shared PC in a kiosk for example. The kiosk model would have been much cheaper, and it could even have encouraged a culture of sharing among children. Although this argument is still true to some extent, evidenced by the poor response from pilot projects in Nigeria, but I now appreciate the project for many other reasons. For one, it led big companies like Intel to focus on extremely low-cost designs for computers, which may be used not just by children, but even by adults to access information. Second, these is a spirit of continuous innovation in the project which is critical in order to build an appropriate technology that correctly fits in the context in which children and adults in developing countries would use it. Third, the $75 price tag is fabulous. Considering that mobile phones now cost hardly $20 but these models do not have good text and image displays, the $75 laptop plus e-book reader could be a perfect complement.

    Many hurdles still remain though, a prominent one being that Internet connectivity in remote rural areas in developing countries is extremely poor. In India, although state governments are funding SWANs (State Wide Area Networks) to provide connectivity to rural kiosks, it may still take many years for large scale deployment to happen. Solutions to provide connectivity to a central hub in each village using long distance WiFi links or asynchronous connectivity through mechanical backhaul seem suitable. Devices like the OLPC laptop can use WiFi to access downloaded content at the hubs, or periodically upload content such as queries about what crop rotation pattern to follow, or how to set up a small-scale-industry to manufacture mosquito coils, etc.

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    So how does all of this tie in with the community radio model of Gram Vaani? Community radio is in fact only one technology that we are starting to improve and experiment with, but our goal is more broad, and includes any technology that can be used to improve media delivery and citizen participation in rural areas. In the future, we will also develop systems to enable news delivery on cellphones, and even on devices such as the $75 laptop. These devices have the advantage that their user interface is more suitable to solicit citizen feedback, as compared to radio. Being a broadcast medium, radio of course has other advantages in terms of community involvement and reachability. Therefore, one avenue of innovation for us will always lie in understanding the epistemological characteristics of different media, and to use them in a complementary manner to best serve society.

    Tagged: community radio gram vaani OLPC rural media wireless
    • I’m surprised that you didn’t understand the point of One Laptop Per Child, unless it somehow wasn’t explained. That point from the very beginning has been collaborative discovery, using software that lets the children play music together (one instrument per child connected by wireless mesh networking), draw pictures together (one digital paintbrush per child on a shared canvas), write together (multiple cursors and simultaneous typing in a document). Sharing one computer in a school or even one per class makes as much sense as sharing one pencil per school or per class.

      Do you know about Kids With Cameras in India? Well, every OLPC XO laptop comes with a built-in camera and microphone. We want to encourage them to record their traditions and also the local news to share with the world.

      Also, we don’t have to figure out how to deliver news on the laptops. A browser and RSS reader are in the standard software distribution.

      More at http://laptop.org/ and http://sugarlabs.org/.

    • Aaditeshwar Seth

      Edward: Just wanted to say that by designing news applications on the OLPC, I meant applications closely integrated with the open platform for community radio that we are designing. This goes beyond the plain old RSS + browser combination. Your feedback on the multiplanar design we have conceived will be most appreciated: http://gramvaani.org/2008/06/multiplanar-application-design-for-community-radio-stations/. You will realize that the OLPC application will be simply pluggable as an additional interface in our platform.

      I am quite hopeful of the use of OLPC as an end-user device that supplements cellphones — so many useful applications are hard to do on cellphones because of the small screen size and closed platform, and the OLPC presents a good supplement. At the same time, I feel that projecting OLPC only a collaborative tool for children, undermines its potential. I believe that technology should be left open to discover its users on its own. People will find many more useful things to do with it, that we may not have even conceived at this point.

    • This is a now-standard criticism of OLPC in some of the circles I run in, but it will be relevant no matter how little the OLPC laptop costs, and no matter what kind of keyboard it has: without a corresponding, progressive pedagogy to accompany these machines, what keeps the entire OLPC project from just being a prospective tech marketing exercise? Most of the real costs are hidden…

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