CES - OLPC updates laptop efforts, says cost at US$130

The OLPC project showed off the US$100 laptop at CES, saying the current cost to make them is still a bit high at around US$130 right now

The One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) has whittled down the cost of the green and white computer they hope to deliver to school children in developing countries to about US$130 so far, and hope to reach the target price of US$100 in 2008, a project leader said Monday.

The group also gave reporters a chance to test drive the laptops at a meeting in Las Vegas during the International Consumer Electronics Show on Monday.

Work on the OLPC project by a host of companies affiliated with the program, from the MIT Media Laboratory that launched the effort, to Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Google, and News has reduced the cost of a number of key technologies to try to meet the target price.

Using a Linux-based OS is one way the group can save on cost, but that was not the main reason the group chose Fedora Core 6, a Linux OS, according to Michail Bletsas, chief connectivity officer at OLPC and a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The open source OS allowed the OLPC group to expand the user experience and develop programs aimed at kids, such as games and other software.

Bletsas also clarified that Microsoft "generously" offered a version of its Windows OS to the OLPC project, as did Apple. But the OLPC project declined, believing they had a chance to develop a new user interface. Using open-source software also allows kids a greater opportunity to explore and create on their own, he said.

Reducing costs on the display screen has been a major part of the effort. The group is using low-power displays made in Chi Mei Optoelectronics factories that look great in the sun. A button on the laptop switches it from color to black and white, so when kids are sitting outside with their laptops, they'll still be able to read e-books and other text.

OLPC members showed off the capability by holding a standard IBM Thinkpad next to an OLPC laptop, and, true-to-form, the Thinkpad screen was black in sunlight, while the OLPC device could be clearly viewed.

The ability to turn off the color filters allows the OLPC display to be viewed in sunlight. The group also put on an LED (light emitting diode) backlight for bolder images.

The display is mounted on a swivel to allow kids to turn it completely around to share what's on their display, and even to fold it so that the laptop turns into a tablet PC for reading. It also carries a webcam so kids can send images of themselves and their surroundings.

That the laptop is made for kids becomes obvious when you try typing on the keypad. The keys are so close together it's not easy for an adult to type comfortably.

Libya and Nigeria may be among the first places where the laptops are rolled out. The group wants to gain signed letters of credit from countries that have already committed to the project within the next six months so they can begin distributing laptops later this year. The aim is for the group to have firm orders for 5 million laptops by mid-year and manufactured by the middle of 2008.

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