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MITís $100 Dream: Laptops For Every Child

John Stith
Staff Writer
Published: 2005-09-29

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory is working on a visionary project that could potentially put the Internet in the hands of millions of children all over the world and single-handedly force the revision of several business models in the tech industry.

MIT Media Lab has developed an initiative, and they are nearing completion, to put a laptop computer into the hands of nearly every child in the world. The computers will be self-sufficient with a hand crank for electricity and will be distributed all over the world for less than $100.

Production won't be in the hundreds or the thousands; it will be into the millions. Many countries have already approached Nicholas Negroponte, Lab chairman and co-founder about securing computers for their nations. Some of those countries include China, Brazil, Thailand and Egypt.

The logistical issues are pretty big too. MIT suggests they will produce the first run, 50,000 to 100,000 in less than a year. Then, during the next year, production will kick up to 100 million to 200 million units.

The product has a number of features that allow durability and use just about anywhere. First is the housing. It's made of rubber and seals hermetically when you close it. That way, it won't get wet or see damage nearly so easily. For places with no electricity, it has a small hand crank for power. The mentioned a test community in Cambodia that used these laptops as a primary light source.

Many will ask "how the heck can they do this for less than $100?" The answer is in the mix. They've trimmed away all the fat from this computer. No need lots of storage space. It's running a thinned down version of Linux, very basic. Their corporate sponsors have also helped them cut down on costs too.

The corporate sponsors include AMD, Brightstar, Google, News Corp. and Red Hat. These corporate sponsors are ones that could create some problems in the tech industry too, namely AMD, Red Hat and Google.

Normally, their big corporate competitors probably won't say much about donating efforts to the poorer nations of the world. But one must wonder what they have to say when the Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney wants to sink his teeth into half a million of the things in the second year of production for colleges and high school students in his state.

They've already gone to open source for their office suite software. Companies like Microsoft, Dell, Intel, Apple and others could run into some real problems when students are promised inexpensive laptops, provided free of charge by school systems. This could really cut into their profits in a major way. While the $1000 laptops may offer more groovy features, an inexpensive Linux machine will always be more appealing to local school districts. Then there's the nationwide movement for cheap computers.

Keep in mind Google is a major sponsor of this too. This would be brilliant for the free wireless network they're discussing. Many companies with Internet access provider contracts will also lose out. When these networks start permeating the globe with cheap computers and access to virtually any knowledge, what happens then?

While MIT hasn't said it will do business with the state of Massachusetts yet, it's certainly something interesting to consider. In the meantime, the dream to put a laptop in the hands of every child is an admirable goal. While so many of the problems involved seem impossible to overcome, this team appears to be doing the impossible.

The prototype will be debuted at the "World Summit in the Information Society" on November 17th in Tunis.

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About the Author:
John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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