This is Not a Toy: The Little Computer That Could

Video: One Laptop Per Child designer Yves Behar talks with ScribeMedia.Org about the challenges of designing the toy that will save the world.

“Now we in the developed world want something that people in the developing world have. I like that idea!”Yves Behar on One Lap Top Per Child

When the idea of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) — popularly known as $100 Laptop — was first announced in 2005, nobody thought it was possible. Two years later in November 2007 the little computer that could went into mass production in China, and is now called the XO laptop.

The powerful idea behind OLPC goes back to 1982 (!) when Nicolas Negroponte and Seymour Papert distributed Apple II microcomputers to school children in a suburb of Dakar, Senegal.

This initiative confirmed Papert’s central assumption: children in remote, rural, and poor regions of the world take to computers as easily and naturally as children anywhere.

GreenerGadget Conference

The XO laptop is one of the most celebrated products in the upcoming GreenerGadget Conference, which is hosted by Inhabitat, Business Week and Core77. For the contest, ScribeMedia is building a green gadget design contest where contestants and participants can upload ideas and plans for the next great green design.

Feel free to contact us about the contest site launch.

Almost 20 years later technology has caught up with the idea and we are witnessing one of the most revolutionary experiments take place.

The XO laptop is packed with features that make those of us with MacBook Pros, Toughbooks and HP Tablets a bit jealous. XO has a screen that you can use in direct sunlight, it’s light, compact and strong. It consumes so little energy that it can be charged with solar panels, cranks and foot pedals!

The OLPC team is headed by Nicolas Negroponte (the founder of MIT lab) and consists of leading mathematicians, programmers, psychologists, engineers, musician/activists, businessmen and humanitarians.

The man responsible for the look and feel of the final shell that encapsulates all this wonderful technology is an industrial designer. The product design is supposed to seduce two unlikely groups: politicians and children.

The XO laptop is intended for purchase by governments and free distribution in local schools, hence politicians have to be seduced. The children need to be seduced so they love to learn with the XO, and later in life lead their countries out of poverty.

The task of creating the shell of the seductive gadget fell on the shoulders of Yves Behar and Fuseproject. Behar put to use his principals of emotional design and storytelling in design, and turned out a product that is generating widespread excitement.

We met Yves Behar during Design Miami 2007. The video above is the product of this meeting and gives a glance into what it means to design a toy created to end poverty in the world.

The XO laptop has been named the greenest computer ever made and is the hottest gadget on Inhabitat’s gift guide. (The general public can buy the XO lap top until December 31st. If you do, you actually buy two: one for your child and the other as a donation to a child in the developing world.)

We filmed this interview using the Panasonic AG-HSC1 high definition camera.

14 thoughts on “This is Not a Toy: The Little Computer That Could”

  1. here’s a bunch of comments i’ve gotten from a listerv i’m on:

    ————–

    I got mine this week. I love this thing. No, it’s not exactly a full desktop replacement, but yes, it’s a real computer, not a toy (I’m writing this message on it). I don’t have a kid around to evaluate it, but to me, it appears beautifully designed to appeal to children, and if not exactly intuitive (a misused word if ever I’ve heard one), it should be easy for kids to figure it out. Probably much more quickly than the average adult, even technologically literate ones. Lots of tools for learning, communication, sharing – I would have loved to have had one. At close to $400 under the give one, get one program, it’s a bit much for me to be giving them to my nieces and nephew. But if I could, I would. Of course, since the communication/collaboration features are such a big part of it, it’s not quite as cool if nobody else has one.

    If it ever becomes available for retail sale for under $200, I’m buying a bunch of these.

    Of course, the whole point is kids in developing countries. Let’s just hope governments buy into it and don’t screw things up too badly, because this just may have a shot at living up to the hype.

    —————

    That’s one of my major concerns. This machine is designed to exploit network effects. But if they’re only available on a limited basis to children around here, then it doesn’t seem like a good investment.

    I’d be seriously considering this (not just for my kids, but also for the school where I help with technology issues) were this not the case. I’m sure I’m not alone in this reasoning, which tells me that there’s something screwy in the machine’s “marketing”.

    —————-

    My understanding is that this buy two get one deal was to build some interest and allow for people in the developed world that have been clamoring for a chance to evaluate and experiment with the device a way of getting their hands on a few of them (and to add to the demand so production could be ramped up a bit). But, for the moment the ability to produce them is limited and they are worried that too high a percentage of the machines will go to the developed world and that would hamper the project’s goals in the short term.

    So, if the project is successful and they can start producing more of the machines, more will become available to the developed world.

    –Eric

    —————-

    The concern you describe is not unreasonable. But it should be handled in a fashion that also demonstrates continued, or even enhanced, availability within the developed world in the future. Something like a long term commitment to the current 50% deal, for example, or even a statement that the near-future would include availability of a limited percentage of machines for the developed world, would achieve this. And I’m sure more thought would yield other possibilities.

    Failure to achieve this cuts the machine (and therefore its production needs) off from a nontrivial market. It also closes the door to a lot of potential developers.

    ———————-

    The best thing is that the payment is ENTIRELY TAX DEDUCTIBLE: you get one laptop, a child in a 3rd world country gets another. How can you go wrong?

    ———————-

    I actually have one of these in my possession. I got it for my Grandson, but I won’t see him until January. So, in the meantime, I get to play.

    As for tax deductibility, you can only deduct $200 of the $400 payment. You obviously can’t take the whole thing since you are benefiting from 1/2 of it in the form of the laptop that you receive.

    If anyone wants to know anything specific about the unit, just ask. I haven’t been able to put it online yet since I don’t have wireless in the house. Need to bring it to a local coffee shop. Won’t I look silly? A 50ish guy sitting with his coffee and a bright green/white little tiny laptop!

    Oh, I don’t know if anyone mentioned that you get a code that allows you to sign up for a free T-Mobile Hotspot account for a year. That’s worth some bucks in its own right.

    For the price, you can’t beat this thing. It looks to be a great learning tool that can be used as an actual laptop (for internet browsing, etc.) in a pinch.

    ————————-

    Of course, since the communication/collaboration features are such a big part of it, it’s not quite as cool if nobody else has one. > > That’s one of my major concerns. This machine is designed to exploit network effects. But if they’re only available on a limited basis to children around here, then it doesn’t seem like a good investment. I’d be seriously considering this (not just for my kids, but also for the school where I help with technology issues) were this not the case. I’m sure I’m not alone in this reasoning, which tells me that there’s something screwy in the machine’s “marketing”.

    They’re not trying to create a US market. I suspect they’d probably prefer to send every one they build to developing countries. The buy one/give one deal puts a small number into the hands of people who are likely to either be excited be, and talk up, the technology, or be the sort of people who can generate interest in the non-profit community, NGOs, etc. – in other words, geeks and intellectuals and philanthropists. They’re shooting for hype, attention, publicity, and support, NOT sales in the US. I think it’s working well, considering that the first ones just shipped.

  2. I really think we are getting closer to this point where thing could no longer remain the way they are working now, this green gadget is a just one step towards that POINT…

  3. Lovely video intro now that I’m home on my Mac… Irony: Now are some scribemedia members or viewers working to improve the XO’s ability to PLAY videos like this? The browser on my new G1G1 model just displays a gray box which, when you click “click here to play Flash” just turns black.
    Last week the somewhat overwhelmed olpc support sites didn’t have very clear instructions on how to install a better player. If you see some, how about linking them to this page?

  4. I bought 2 of these. The hardware is well-made and should hold up to kids well. The software takes a bit getting used to, but nothing that will be a stumbling block for anyone with a desire to learn.

    I hope this project continues and succeeds.

    cheers,

    robin850

  5. ScribeMedia.Org could display the movie in .ogg theora format, like it is done at http://waveplace.com/movies/movie.jsp?id=2 , which would play on the XO (and normal computer users who have the free codecs installed). Alternatively, if you don’t have the bandwith to host the videos, you could upload them to archive.org which also allows you to upload in theora format.
    Regarding flash on the XO, it comes installed with gnash, a free software alternative still in development, but since they can’t ship patented and/proprietary codecs (for litigation and royalty reasons), youtube, google,etc. videos don’t play. You can install Adobe’s flash, but so far it doesn’t play smooth (search for it at the wiki.laptop.org ).

  6. I do not know if I come to the wrong site or if I am talking to the wrong department but it seems that I have seen you on CNN talking about that solar charger for cell phone and Laptop.Please e-mail yes or no to tell me if I am wrong or not.I cae from a poor country that does not have 6 hours of electricity a day, I would appreciate if that charger could really charge a cell phone or a laptop or eve a computer.You have said there are two kinds, one works with the Sun and the second one works with winds.Please email me your phone numbers.Thanks.

  7. I bought four computers for my grandchildren they just arrived. How do we get the free T Mobile service? Is there a site explaining how to use the computers?

  8. I need some help, I cant watch any video in the xo. I have already downloded the flash player but nothing happened! I dont know what to do!! please help me out with some link or something!! thanks!!

Comments are closed.