Joe Zefran, RTE.ie News Editor in Barcelona
Ten years from now, a trip through an African village could look very different. Hunched around little green alien-shaped machines will be children, chatting with their peers in the village and new friends around the world. They will have the internet at their fingertips including new educational tools and the 2017 version of myspace.
So goes the theory behind One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a two-year-old initiative by a number of high tech companies that is ready to launch. This week at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, the tech world got to look, touch and play with some of the first one thousand units built just last November.
Once they have been dropped, dirtied and debugged, the initial run of 3500 laptops will be built and shipped to kids in Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Thailand and Uruguay. Thousands more will be sent to those seven countries later in the year.
Companies like Google, eBay and AMD signed onto the educational initiative after it was unveiled in 2005 at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Many tech industry vets like Intel chairman Craig Barret were sceptical that a useful laptop could be built for the original goal of $100 (€76) each.
The end result, revealed to many for the first time this week, costs closer to €115, but has otherwise 'quieted' the sceptics, according to OLPC Chief Connectivity Officer Michael Bletsas.
A built-in webcam, open source software, USB ports, and unique wireless network are just some of the features. Flip the screen around and you get the unit's most energy efficient and educational configuration as an e-book.
With attention to the future world in which children – and these laptops – will exist, all of the materials are environmentally friendly and the shell can withstand moist and dusty conditions.
Most groundbreaking, however, is the power system. OLPC laptops use just a fraction of energy compared to their consumer counterparts. While a plugged-in charge can last up to 40 hours, there's also an optional pull-string charger that lets kids without access to electricity power up by hand.
The initial shipment to be sent to the seven countries was funded by the non-profit initiative. Future orders will be paid for by countries themselves. Since there will not be enough for every child to have their own laptop, yet, the computers will go to school districts in urban and rural areas.
Demand and funding for the laptops will not be the problem in the future. Instead, the participating manufacturer Quanta will have trouble keeping up. OLPC CCO Michael Bletsas says other manufacturers need to pitch in so they can reach their "one laptop per child" goal.