"$100 Laptop" Project May be Coming to America

By Jim Finkle, Reuters  |  Posted 04-30-2007

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.. (Reuters) - A project that aims to deliver low-priced laptops with string pulleys to the world's poorest children may have a new market: U.S. schools.

The nonprofit "One Laptop per Child" project said on Thursday it might sell versions of its kid-friendly laptops in the United States, reversing its previous position of only distributing them to the poorest nations.

"We can't ignore the United States. ... We are looking at it very seriously," Nicholas Negroponte, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology academic who founded the project, told analysts and reporters.

Once known as the $100 laptop, the lime-green-and-white devices are inching up in price. In February, the project estimated said they would sell for $150 each. Negroponte now puts their price tag at $176 apiece.

They would go at a higher price to U.S. schools, he said, because more resources are invested in American education than in developing nations, even in the poorest U.S. regions.

The laptop features a string pulley to charge its battery, a keyboard that switches between languages, a digital video camera, wireless connectivity and Linux open-source operating software tailored for remote regions.

The display switches from color to black and white for viewing in direct sunlight -- a feature unavailable in laptops at least 10 times more expensive.

It requires just two watts of power compared to the typical laptop's 30 to 40 watts, and does away with hard drives, relying instead on flash memory and four USB ports to add memory devices. A minute of yanking on its pulley generates 10 minutes of electricity.

Negroponte said U.S. schools could receive the laptops by the end of the year in response to interest from 19 governors.

Stephen O'Grady, a software analyst with RedMonk LLC, said millions of the devices, which are built by Taiwan's Quanta Computer Inc. (2382.TW: Quote, Profile, Research, could be sold in the United States.

"There are still lots of underprivileged kids here who don't have access. So there is definitely a market for a very low-priced machine," he said.

Digital Divide
Although many applaud the project's attempt to bridge the world's digital divide, some predict it will be a financial burden on countries that can least afford it with no guarantee of success.

Others say the money would be better spent on food, medicine, libraries and schools.

Wayan Vota, whose blog (http://olpcnews.com/) monitors the project, estimates the cost of providing one laptop per every Nigerian child equals 73 percent of the African country's entire government budget.

Walter Bender, the group's president of software and content, said tests mostly begun in February in Brazil, Nigeria, Argentina, Uruguay, Pakistan, Thailand, Libya and other countries were largely successful.

The laptops will enter mass production in September if the One Laptop Per Child Foundation that runs the project receives orders for at least 3 million devices, Negroponte said.

Formal orders begin in May but Negroponte said he thinks he has 2.5 million so far. The project will be delayed if he doesn't reach 3 million.

Children in the developing world, Bender added, will receive accounts with Google Inc.'s (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research free e-mail service to store journals, videos, photos, composed music and other school projects. Already, educators are tapping into the popular YouTube Internet video service.

"Teachers in Nigeria can look at what teachers in Brazil are doing," he said.