by Martyn Williams

Laptops For Schoolchildren

Jul 01, 20052 mins

MIT is developing a laptop computer that it plans to sell for $100 each to government agencies that will distribute them to schoolchildren.

Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and cofounder of the MIT Media Lab, says many countries lack the means to offer children enough education to realize their full potential. However, as Negroponte envisions it, the combination of providing laptops to all children, broadband connections for the towns and villages those children live in, and a school syllabus for the use of digital materials will improve not only the education the children receive but also their future prospects.

Discussions with various governments for pilot projects are under way, Negroponte says. MIT has asked China to order 3 million machines, and Brazil to order 1 million laptops. He hopes to have working units available for demonstration this November, in time for the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.

Negroponte’s goal is to produce between 100 million and 200 million laptops in the first year. The total worldwide PC market in 2004 was 172 million, according to a recent report from IDC (a sister company to CIO’s publisher).

The machines would be sold in bulk directly to government ministries for use in schools. Negroponte is convinced that with a simplified sales model and some reengineering of the device itself, the $100 price point can be realized.

About half the price of a current laptop computer comprises marketing, sales, distribution and profit, he says. Of the remaining costs, the display panel and backlight account for roughly half while the rest covers, according to Negroponte, “an absolutely obese, overweight and unreliable operating system.”

The low-cost laptop will use a display system that costs less than $25 and will run Linux, he says. The first-generation machine will use a 500MHz processor from AMD, and will have a wireless LAN connection and 1GB of storage in place of a hard-disk drive. The machines will automatically connect with others, forming a peer-to-peer network for communications and Internet connection sharing.