Nicholas Negroponte's done it! MIT, his base of operations, announced the following (via Pocket-lint of the UK):
"MIT has unveiled its $100 hand-cranked laptop computer to the United Nations technology summit in Tunisia and said that it hopes to make millions of the devices to give to the poorest people in the world.
The lime-green machines, which are about the size of a text book, will offer wireless connectivity via a mesh network of their own creation allowing peer-to-peer communication and operate in areas without a reliable electricity supply."
Back in July, in a post titled "On how long to low-cost, non-Microsoft mobile PCs", I outlined the various commercial and charitable initiatives underway to more affordable computers. Specifically, I noted:
"The current "holy grail" for low-cost computers is highlighted today by both philanthropic efforts like MIT Lab Nicholas Negroponte's drive for the sub $100 laptop for developing countries, and commercial efforts by entrepreneurs in developing countries like China, India and Brazil.
The screen is the chief impediment here, as are some other components, not the least of which is the cost represented by Microsoft Windows operating system, and applications. Those software products are typically priced as developed world prices even in the developing world.
Well, it looks like these challenges have been overcome, with these machines likely to be available next year at the earliest. The specs of the machine are impressive:
"The computers operate at 500 MHz, about half the processor speed of commercial laptops, and will run on Linux rather than Microsoft’s or Apple’s Operating systems as previously hoped by the two companies.
The computer uses a screen from a portable DVD player, which can be switched from colour to black and white to make it easily viewable in bright sunlight, said Mary Lou Jepsen, the project's chief technical officer.
MIT plans to have units ready for shipment by the end of 2006 or early 2007. Manufacturing will begin when 5 to 10 million machines have been ordered and paid for in advance."
Wouldn't it be interesting if these "non-profit" $100 machines morphed into commercial products through the joint efforts of the same technology sponsors? Kind of an "open-source" laptop. Stranger things have happened.
As a side note, there's another place where children's electronic products may produce ideas if not offshoots relevant for the "grown-up" computer market. David Pogue of the New York Times has an almost inspirational article reviewing the new $100 "pentop computer" called "The Fly" from LeapFrog, the makers of LeapPad. As David puts it:
"STAGGERING possibilities await a pen that can read software right off the page as it moves, and the Fly package comes with a sparkling sampler. For example, as you tap countries on a world map, the pen pronounces their capitals or plays their national anthems.
On a glossy, fold-out mini-poster of a disc jockey's setup, you can tap buttons to get music samples, or tap turntables to produce record-scratching sounds; then you can record your own compositions or compete, memory-game style, against other players. There's even a sheet of stickers that, when tapped, produce appropriate sound effects. (For my two elementary-schoolers, the belching mouth alone was good for 20 minutes of hilarity.)"
There's undoubtedly a whole number of cool applications something like this could be put to use in the computing market for adults. And it's a cool gift for kids on your shopping list this Christmas.
In the meantime, I have a suggestion of where MIT, Negroponte, and the UN could get additional funds to pre-pay the order for 10 million machines. Sell a bunch of them in the industrialized countries at $200 a pop, with the proceeds going towards this worthy cause. Perhaps offer it in colors other than lime-green.
Even tie it with some celebrity telethons for good measure.
In fact, borrow a page from Apple's book, and do a Bono-themed laptop and sell it for $300.
I know I'd be in line for some.