OLPC redux: Spin-off delivers successors to XO hardware

OLPC spin-off One Education has the Infinity:One, a $230 2-in-1 that it hopes will succeed the aging XO laptop

Non-profit One Education has an ambitious plan in a competitive PC market: to sell Windows 10 tablets and laptops inspired by the innovative spirit of One Laptop Per Child, which designed groundbreaking low-cost PCs almost a decade ago.

One Education, an OLPC spin-off, is making what it considers successors to OLPC's XO devices, which are now out-of-date. OLPC released its first XO laptop in 2007, but the organization is now splintered and focusing on education tools.

The first One Education product is the Infinity:One, a tablet with a keyboard attachment for laptop usability. It has the green-and-white color scheme of the XO devices. It is available for US$230, and the devices will ship in August.

The Infinity:One, like the original XO-1, doesn't have awe-inspiring hardware. But One Education CEO Rangan Srikhanta, an OLPC fan, said this laptop was for schoolkids, not for enthusiasts benchmarking performance.

"We are dealing with primary school children, so their requirements are different to that of adults. Robustness, repairability, cost and basic functionality ... are important drivers," Srikhanta said.

Infinity:One runs Windows 10, and has 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. It offers 10 hours of battery life, and offers a 2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel back camera.

It also has USB 2.0 and micro-USB 3.0 ports and a micro-SD slot for expandable storage. A micro-HDMI port can connect the 2-in-1 to an external display.

The screen and processor are the weak points. It has an Atom processor that's already outdated, as those chips are being phased out by Intel in favor of Pentium and Celeron chips code-named Apollo Lake.

The 10.1-inch screen has a resolution of 1280 x 800, which is no match for today's 2-in-1s.

The Infinity:One is an offshoot of the Infinity:Concept, a modular laptop design in which individual parts like cameras and batteries can be easily attached or removed. That design was introduced last year but didn't make it to production.

"We have some interesting plans in the pipeline that we are working with Microsoft and our manufacturer on," Srikhanta said.

Some ideas that One Education could borrow from the original XO include solar-powered laptops and low-power displays. Those could be valuable in countries where power is scarce. Some other wild XO ideas including riding a bicycle to recharge the battery.

One Education will continue to develop models with newer features inspired by Infinity:Concept. Srikhanta also hopes to ultimately manufacture Infinity:Concept.

Also in development is Infinity:Power, a rack on which up to 10 Infinity:One devices can be charged rapidly. It will sell for $250 when released.

But questions remains about whether One Education will succeed, or suffer the fate of OLPC, which lost focus, had funding issues and ultimately broke up.

One Education has a sustainable business model and has raised millions of dollars, Srikhanta said. It is fulfilling orders from Australian schools, and there is interest from distributors in South America, Africa and the U.K.

Also, many XO laptops are out of date, and these devices could replace them. But cheap Windows laptops are already available, and Chromebooks -- which can be acquired for under $300 -- are being used by many schools, which poses a big challenge for One Education.

But nonprofits can succeed in the hardware market -- Raspberry Pi is a prime example. Meanwhile, Srikantha says One Education remains committed to hardware development.

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