The Hundred Dollar Laptop
The MIT Media Lab – the creator of many emerging technologies like Mesh Networks – brings yet another invention, but this time headed by Nicholas Negroponte it's focused on children and education with a slight tinge of an attempt to bridge the digital divide.
Within the Device
It is a laptop that costs $100, the reason? Well, because it does not use expensive conventional components of any popular laptop – an LCD/flat-panel screen, Microsoft Windows, and a heavy hard drive. Instead, it utilizes some of the most inexpensive and mostly open-source technologies in the market like a free Linux operating system, a rear-projection screen or a type of electronic ink invented by the MIT Media Lab, and a one gigabyte flash memory to store documents. In addition, it comprises of a range of free application software that includes an internet browser, voice over internet program called Skype, and many other software applications designed for addressing “social” needs. Not only does it present a showcase of great software, but it also offers some intriguing hardware features. The most notable one is the ‘power crank'. It is hand crank (like the ones used for pulling up a bucket of water from a well) that when rotated converts mechanical force for electricity that keeps on charging the battery within the laptop. The device when turned on automatically connects to another of the same kind in the vicinity through a mesh network - an emerging communications protocol that uses the concept of “hopping” from one node to another, so even if a node breaks down, the network would still be up and running. This way, households would be able to communicate with each other by e-mail or voice over internet protocol (VoIP).
By utilizing mesh network technology, each HDL user would have automatic access to the Internet. And by using a voice over internet application Skype, pre-installed on the laptop, users would be able to communicate with any part of the world – free of cost.
The Economics of the HDL
The hundred dollar laptop would be only sold commercially to education ministries of various governments, or a non governmental agency performing infrastructure work in developing countries. China and Brazil have already shown interest in buying a few million machines each, while other smaller developing nations are still approaching. As far as the product profit/loss is concerned - the $100 cost of the laptop incorporates mostly the hardware components, since the major portion of software poses zero cost to the developers. The profit margin would be very narrow – a mere $10 per machine for equipment manufacturers. It is anticipated that the equipment be built in China to lower down costs.
Sources & Links
"The Hundred Dollar Laptop". Technology Review, August 2005.