Engineers at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology have announced plans to deliver a laptop for under $100 that will ensure the world's poor don't end up on the wrong side of a digital divide.
Speaking at MIT's ongoing Emerging Technologies Conference, Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and co-founder of the school's Media Lab confirmed that five countries — Brazil, China, Egypt, South Africa and Thailand — are already putting plans in place to distribute as many as 15 million of the devices.
The programme, through which government agencies are being asked to purchase the laptops, is aimed primarily at elementary-school-age children, explicitly first- and second-graders, at present.
The technical specifications of the $100 laptops, which are expected to be ready for shipment by the end of 2006 or early 2007, were also confirmed.
The model will include a hand crank that would allow users to wind-up power when there's no electricity. They'd be foldable into more positions than traditional notebook PCs, and carried like slim lunch boxes.
The machines will also have 500Mhz processor and 1Gb of onboard memory, and be Wi-Fi compatible. More interestingly run the Linux operating system to further cut down on cost.
Negroponte said that designing the devices is a continuing challenge, as, in contrast to traditional computers, they will need to become less sophisticated and cheaper with each generation.
However, he said that the group's work with its corporate partners — Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Brightstar Corp., Google Inc., News Corp. and Red Hat Inc. — is already helping to overcome such obstacles.
One solution suggested could be the use of a dual-mode, flexible LCD display being developed at MIT, which may allow for a 12-inch screen that costs only $12 to build and mean for outdoor reading, the display would be able to shift from full colour to glare-resistant black and white.
The prototype of the laptop would be exhibited at the World Summit on the Information Society on November 17 in Tunisia. The group said that they plan to deliver these laptops directly to the concerned governments so that they can distribute them like notebooks.