The MIT Media Laboratory expects to launch a prototype of its US$100 laptop in November.. The facility has been working with industry partners to develop a notebook computer for use in education, particularly in developing countries. The laptops should start appearing in volume in late 2006.
"In emerging nations, the issue isn't connectivity," Nicholas Negroponte, the lab's chairman said at the Emerging Technologies Conference. "That's not solved, but lots of people are working on it in Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, etc. For education, the roadblock is laptops." He and his colleagues believe that equipping all children in the world with their own laptop will greatly improve the level of education and help stimulate children to learn outside of school as well as in the classroom.
The lab expects to unveil a prototype of the $100 laptop at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in November.
The 500MHz laptop will run a "skinny version" of the open-source Linux operating system. It will have a two-mode screen, so it can be viewed in color and then by pushing a button or activating software switch to a black-and-white display, which can be viewed in bright sunlight at four times normal resolution, according to Negroponte. He estimates the display will cost around $35.
The laptop can be powered either with an AC adapter or via a wind-up crank, which is stored in the housing of the laptop where the hinge is located. The laptops will have a 10 to 1 crank rate, so that a child will crank the handle for one minute to get 10 minutes of power and use. When closed, the hinge forms a handle and the AC cord can function as a carrying strap, according to Negroponte. The laptops will be ruggedized and probably made of rubber, he said. They will have four USB ports, be Wi-Fi- and cell phone enabled and come with 1GB of memory.
Each laptop will act as a node in a mesh peer-to-peer ad hoc network, Negroponte said, meaning that if one laptop is directly accessing the Internet, when other machines power on, they can share that single online connection.
The lab will initially target Brazil, China, Egypt, South Africa and Thailand, according to Negroponte, as well as Massachusetts, which has just committed to equipping every schoolchild with a laptop. Negroponte hopes to start mass production of some 5 million to 15 million laptops for those markets towards the end of 2006. Come December 2007, he estimated production of the laptops at between 100 million and 150 million, three times the number of annual shipments of commercial laptops.
"I've told the governments that our price will float and go down over time," Negroponte said. "$100 is still too expensive." Each government will need to pay for one million laptops in advance to ensure the lab and its partners can achieve the necessary scale to persuade companies to mass produce the machines, he added. He didn't provide any further details on how exactly the vast number of machines will be produced and shipped to their final destinations.
MIT Media Lab has been involved in a number of initiatives to provide schoolchildren with laptops in the past, in Senegal and in Costa Rica and Negroponte has his own projects in Cambodia, but this is the first global push for the lab with a mobile computer developed from scratch.