One Laptop per Child stole the show at tonight’s CES Unveiled event with a $100 tablet computer. Featuring a solar charger integrated into a protective hardshell case and an optional, robust hand-cranked generator, the device gets it right. It could be the defining digital bridge into the developing world.
The original OLPC project – a $100 laptop computer – launched the netbook market but did not achieve the degree of mass distribution in the developing world as originally hoped. It was by no means a failure, but it never really connected with its killer app: digital textbooks.
Textbooks represent a major cost for developing world governments and a nice profit center for publishers. A $100 e-reader combined with open source or deeply subsidized educational content would completely disrupt that business model, making it possible to put a book on virtually any topic into the hands of any child who has one. It’s self liquidating, or nearly so, in just the first year.
The tablet form factor could – should – be the key to OLPC’s break out. The new tablet is a perfect distribution platform for e-books, plus it supports basic computing and communications functions. It has a capacitance touch screen, which eliminates the need for keyboard skills, and it supports a wide range of network interfaces, I/O modes and power sources. It even has an accelerometer.
The demonstration units are based on a Marvell Armada 610 ARM chip, and include Marvell WiFi silicon as well. It’ll run the Linux, Sugar and Android operating systems, and is specced with 500 MB of RAM, 4 GB of storage and 8 hours of battery life.
It’s not a product as such. It’s a fully implementable design developed by the OLPC Foundation. It’s open source and ready for deployment.