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$100 Laptop Price Increases

By Hannah Hsieh

In an ironic twist, the anticipated price of the 2007 model of the “$100 laptop” will be $138. Announced last month by Nicholas Negroponte, the chairman of the One Laptop Per Child association, the projected price will drop to $100 by the end of 2008 and $50 in 2010.

The announcement came at the second annual AMD Global Vision Conference in Pasadena, Calif.

The non-profit, Delaware-based OLPC association was the brainchild of several professors at MIT, including Negroponte. OLPC’s goal is to engineer and produce a low-cost laptop — the $100 laptop — that will be available for use in developing countries “to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment, and express themselves,” the OLPC Web site states.

“The project has its roots in everything that [Nicholas Negroponte, Seymour Papert, and I, among others] have been working on for more than 30 years at MIT,” said Walter Bender, president of OLPC software and content. The initiative was first announced to the public in Jan. 2005 by Negroponte at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

OLPC plans to perform field testing with all of its launch countries this fall, Bender said. There has been no official release confirming the launch countries, but initial discussions have been held with China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand.

“What I can say for sure is that we plan to do most of our testing in the field, and that Thailand is among the most probable locations for that testing,” Michail Bletsas, the OLPC chief connectivity officer, wrote in a Sept. 27 e-mail.

It is unclear whether the recent coup in Thailand will affect the country’s plans to test and to purchase the laptop.

The OLPC has been sending developer boards all over the world for the past several months, Bletsas said. The fully functional “alpha” machines will not be shipped overseas until November.

Making these laptops usable for children in areas with less developed infrastructure who might not have easy access to power or internet connectivity “has been our main concern from day one.” Bletsas said. Theft is also a strong concern for the OLPC, but the creators believe that “the machine’s unique design and kid orientation will help towards discouraging gray and black markets for it.”

“We are trying to test all aspects of the laptop: soup to nuts,” Bender said.

According to Bletsas, the relatively low cost of the laptops is the result of many factors, the three most important being OLPC’s non-profit status, “the laptop’s software that allows it to carry out typical tasks without the usual resource obesity of current personal computers,” and the novel low-cost dual display design.

The first display option is a transmissive, full-color mode, and the second display option is a high resolution reflective mode that is sunlight-readable. This dual-mode LCD, developed by Mary Lou Jepsen, OLPC chief technical officer, has a higher resolution (200 DPI) than most laptop displays on the market. The dual display also consumes approximately one-seventh of the power of other laptop displays.

Bletsas said that the latest laptops will be powered by an AC adapter, along with a human-powered generator that works with a zip-pull cord mechanism similar to an outboard engine starter. This new mechanism replaced the crank “because of superior ergonomics.” Previous models of the laptop had also included a foot pedal, pulley system, and treadle.

The laptops are currently Linux-based and will include a 500 MHz AMD processor, 128 MB of DRAM, and 500 MB of flash memory, but no hard drive. The laptop will also include four USB ports. The laptops support wireless broadband that allows them to create an ad hoc, local area network where each laptop will be able to talk to its nearest neighbors.

The official name for the laptop is still a work in progress, but according to Bender, “2B1 is the name of a foundation Nicholas [Negroponte] started in the mid-1990’s. The goal ‘To Be One’ is shared by the OLPC and seems to be a likely name for the laptop.”

Negroponte was a co-founder and chairman emeritus of the MIT Media Lab, and served as its director until 2000. Bender was a founding member of the MIT Media Lab and served as its Executive Director from Sept. 2000 to Jan. 2006. Both Negroponte and Bender are currently on leave from MIT to work full-time on the OLPC.