CES - $100 laptop group shows off recharger

A battery charger that resembles a yo-yo will help power laptops that come from the One Laptop Per Child group.

The group behind the US$100 laptop computer aimed at schoolchildren in developing countries has developed a novel battery recharger for the machine that looks a lot like a yo-yo.

Users attach the yo-yo like-device to a fixed object such as a door or tree, then yank a pull-string to recharge the battery, similar to a pulley system.

The device will be given out to students who receive a US$100 laptop, and will also be sold to users in developed nations as a mobile phone recharger, according to Michail Bletsas, chief connectivity officer at the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC). The device can recharge a mobile phone in about five minutes, he said during a briefing at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday.

The recharger was designed by Squid Labs, and costs about US$10 for the materials alone, Bletsas said. A private company will market the device to users, but OLPC doesn't yet know how much it will sell for in stores.

OLPC settled on the recharger design after trying out several other options, including a foot pedal and a hand crank. Many of the places where the OLPC laptops may end up lack electricity, hence the need for a human-powered recharging system.

In fact, power remains the biggest hurdle for the group, Bletsas said. Not only do the laptops need to be recharged, but a planned low-cost, Euro 100 (US$130) server for each school that consumes less than 5 watts of power, and Internet connection devices also need power. In some areas, the group plans to beam the Internet in by satellite in order to bypass the power issue.

But in other areas, power is a bigger problem. In one example of the troubles OLPC has faced, Bletsas said a company offered it free WiMax devices to provide Internet connectivity. Even though the devices only used the power of a hair dryer, about a kilowatt, it was far too much for many remote areas.

The OLPC laptops run on rechargeable Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries, chosen for their lower cost as well as recyclability.

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