• Gov. Mitt Romney wants Massachusetts schoolchildren to get the $100 hand-crank laptops developed at the MIT Media Lab. The above image shows the laptop design.

    Photo courtesy / MIT Media Lab

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$100 laptop idea taking off

An MIT professor's plan to offer $100, hand-crank laptop computers to children in developing countries has drawn interest from several foreign leaders as well as Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who plans to distribute them to schoolchildren.

Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and chairman of the Media Lab, has been working on the laptop idea since 1999 and plans to have a working prototype ready in November. He demonstrated a model last week at the Technology Review Magazine Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT.

In January, Negroponte and his Media Lab colleagues Joe Jacobson and Seymour Papert announced the foundation of One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit dedicated to designing and distributing the computers. According to the project's web site, leaders in Thailand, Brazil and Egypt have already expressed interest in the computers, which can be powered by electrical outlets or by hand crank.

"Laptops are both a window and a tool: a window into the world and a tool with which to think. They are a wonderful way for all children to 'learn learning' through independent interaction and exploration," Negroponte wrote on the web site.

Much of the cost savings comes from lowering the cost of the display down to about $30. The designers also streamlined the computers' software. But the Linux-based, full-color, full-screen laptops can do anything a regular laptop can do except store huge amounts of data, according to Negroponte.

The computers will also have wireless Internet access, but only if they are within range of an Internet base station.

Although the program is targeted to developing nations, Romney said he thought Massachusetts children could also benefit. Two weeks ago, he announced a plan to spend $54 million to roll out the program over two years, starting in fall 2007.

Several companies are helping to develop the laptop, including AMD, Brightstar, Google, News Corp and Red Hat, the web site said. The laptops will not be available for the general public to purchase.

For more information about the project, visit laptop.media.mit.edu.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 5, 2005 (download PDF).

Topics: Media Lab, Global, Volunteering, outreach, public service


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