Hey charger! OLPC gets power boost from Aussie coder

Australian Joel Stanley is working on the charger system for the XO-1 laptop

A 21-year-old Australian is playing a key part in developing the charger unit for the XO-1 -- the laptop which is the center of the One Laptop Per Child project.

Joel Stanley has been working in the Boston offices of MIT, which is the home of the OLPC, as part of the Google Summer of Code (GSoC). Stanley was one of 12 Australians chosen to participate in the code program which began on May 28 and wraps up on August 31, 2007.

"My project is to revolve around the power systems of the XO laptop, specifically the gang charger units - large recharging units that can replenish many laptop batteries at once, running off mains or solar power by the way of an internal battery - and also the tinderbox; a XO with it's insides hanging out, connected to a multichannel voltmeter that logs the power usage on the XO's power rails," Stanley's blog states.

This will be extended out to solar and human power input testing if time allows during the three-month project.

"Given my background as an Electrical Engineering student, I am currently involved with the testing of the XO. This has involved taking detailed power measurements of each subsystem on the XO, and more recently I have "cooked" groups of the laptops in a pie warmer, to ensure they meet specifications for heat and humidity", he said.

GSoC offers student developers opportunities to write code for a variety of open source projects. Now in it's third year, the program accepts students from a wide variety of educational pursuits, including computational biology and mining engineering. The program is working with over 100 organisations in 2007, and is hosting over 600 students.

According to it's website, GSoC aims to "get more open source created and released for the benefit of all", and requires students to licence all GSoC code under a licence acceptable to their host organisation.

Many organisations allow students to retain copyright to their code, and each student is funded with US$5000 from Google, with US$4500 going to the student and US$500 to their host organisation.

The first month of Stanley's project was dedicated to meet and greet time, where Joel spent his time chatting on IRC to Richard Smith, his project mentor. "I learnt a lot about the OLPC project from just listening; the process of releasing software images for testing, fixing hardware bugs and getting new hardware revisions working", he said.

Once Stanley began coding, it was decided he would spend his time designing a gang charger and re-writing the Embedded Controller (EC) software. "The EC is a small chip inside the laptop that handles lots of the communication between the hardware and CPU. This includes the keyboard, mouse and battery, as well as the game keys and lid switch which are specific to the XO. The EC in the XO is an EnE kb3700, which uses a 8051 [microcontroller] to do all the thinking", he said.

"I had read about 'the $100 laptop', and was quite interested in both the hardware and the project as a whole - helping out those who lack, by Australian standards, an education", he said.

His enthusiasm has only increased.

"The hardware that sits in these devices is amazing; something which I get excited about with my technical background, but others should be interested in too. OLPC has pushed the barriers, and as soon as consumer hardware manufactures catch up, we will all benefit from screens that are readable in full sunlight, as well as laptops that can last for an entire workday, and still have enough battery life to read a book on the way home, without being too heavy to carry around. All of this, without paying a premium", he said.

The OLPC laptops are "set for mass production at the end of October", Joel said. "There have been some laptops distributed to trial schools around the world of testing".

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is a non-profit association dedicated to developing a bargain laptop for children from less privileged circumstances. The project was launched by Nicholas Negroponte in January 2005, at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The goal of the association is to "provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves", according to the OLPC website.

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