Nicholas Negroponte, who founded this project with other MIT Media Lab faculty members, declares: “If you take any world problem, any issue on the planet–the big ones, peace, the environment, poverty–the solution to that problem certainly includes education, could even be just education, and if you have a solution that doesn’t include education–it’s not a solution at all.” He considers the $100 Laptop quest as primarily an education project rather than a technology project.
The project’s philosophy is based on theories of constructionism first developed by MIT Media Lab Professor Seymour Papert in the 1960s: The computer is seen as the ideal tool to “learn learning” and “think about thinking.” According to the OLPC’s mission statement, the $100 Laptop is supposed to serve as “a window on the world” and “a highly programmable tool for exploring it” so that “children in emerging nations will be opened to both illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem-solving potential.”
Prof. Negroponte talks about the vision and challenges for his initiative in this video from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference
The $100 laptop is smaller than conventional laptops, only weighs around 1 kg and is rugged for the wear-and-tear of daily use and exposure to the elements and to the children’s handling. The low-power computer uses Linux and other open source software and contains flash memory instead of a hard drive. The 7.5 inch display is said to surpass the performance of conventional notebook displays and can be used both inside and outside in broad daylight. The laptops’ wireless devices communicate with each other in a mesh network, in which every laptop transmits data for others. This means that not every child needs its own Internet access. Thanks to the mesh network, all schoolchildren are connected to each other and can share access to a single Internet connection.
Critics have described the $100 laptop as an expensive children’s gadget. Desktop computers with full features would be more useful for development purposes. CNN reports that several African participants of the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia complained that
as the West becomes obsessed with gadgets, they can only think of new marketing ploys to get Africa to take out loans in order to buy what they don’t need.
“If you live in a mud hut,” one participant asked, “what use is that computer for your children who don’t have a doctor within walking distance?”
The OLPC website describes hardware, software, interface and design and this video shows the latest design and features:
According to the project’s FAQ, the “current plan is for 5-10 major governments to sponsor a minimum of 1 million units each. This allows One Laptop Per Child to gain the volumes in parts and manufacturing to enable the low cost per laptop.” Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Pakistan, and Thailand have already signed cooperation agreements.
Negroponte estimates, that the 2007 machines will be $135 each, and that the cost per machine will not drop to $100 until at least 2008. However, by 2010 the price might drop as low as $50.
The US corporations Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Brightstar, Google, Marvell, News Corporation, Nortel, and Red Hat provided the initial funding. Since the One Laptop Per Child initiative is not financed by the US government, it appears as an example of a private or academic development project of MIT faculty members with corporate sponsors. Such projects are not included when American and European development efforts are compared. Usually only the US and European government development aid as a percentage of the gross national income is measured. This puts the United States second-to-last among the OECD countries — with 0.17 percent of its GNI given as foreign aid. The United States look stingy, because the huge US philanthropy is usually ignored. The Hudson Institute has published an Index on Global Philanthropy (PDF, 6 MB) in 2006, which claims $71 billion in international donations by U.S. private charities, religious organizations, universities, corporations, foundations, and immigrants sending money home for the year of 2004 (the latest year available). This private and corporate aid is more than three times the amount of government foreign aid for the same year.