One Laptop Combats Large Corporations to Provide for All

Event: Design Heroix Kick-off: Mary Lou Jepsen
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.30.08
Speakers: Mary Lou Jepsen, PhD — CEO/CTO, Pixel Qi & Former Chief Technology Officer, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC); Idit Harel Caperton — President & Founder, World Wide Workshop, CEO & Founder, MaMaMedia; Allan Chochinov — Partner, CORE77, Editor-in-Chief, Core77.com, & Strategist, Coroflot.com and DesignDirectory.com; Gabriella Coleman — Anthropoloigst, Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, NYU; (Introduction) Natalie Jeremijenko — Artist, Director of xDesign Environmental Health Clinic, NYU & Assistant Professor in Art, NYU
Organizer: Center for Architecture; NYU; Buckminster Fuller Institute
Sponsors: Center for Architecture; Environmental Health Clinic, NYU; Buckminster Fuller Institute

XO Laptop

The One Laptop Per Child XO laptop.

Courtesy laptopgiving.org

Giving children in developing countries an opportunity to learn is not easy, as Mary Lou Jepsen, PhD, CEO/CTO of Pixel Qi, can attest. As the former chief technology officer of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, she has persevered trying to bring the idea that every child should be able to be educated on an easily accessible, affordable laptop. Challenges included bringing the price of each laptop down to $100; designing an artifact that uses a minimum amount of energy; and developing a network that will work anywhere in the world, has a long lifetime, and can be easily distributed.

Called the XO laptop, this computer is the greenest laptop available. It uses a fraction of the energy consumed by a mainstream laptop because the motherboard is set up to sense when it is not in use. If someone is watching something and not using the keyboard, then only the power for the screen remains on. The XO can also last longer than five years and is made from biodegradable materials. According to Jensen, the XO is 15 times more sustainable than EnergyStar standards.

Computer screens are the most expensive, power-hungry component, and the most liable to break. Together with Quanta, the world’s largest laptop manufacturer, OLPC reduced the energy needs of the LCD screen so the computer runs on a mere two watts of power. To run the computer, communities can obtain a five-watt solar panel, use hand cranks, windmills, or even animals.

To make the XO easily accessible for novice computer users, the MaMaMedia Creative Center developed a system designed to enable students and teachers to immediately understand how to interact with the laptop through tutorials and an intuitive interface. The Internet runs via a mesh network system — one computer obtains access with far-ranging wireless technology, and then the connection is transferred among other laptops in short range. Also, portals are built into the mesh allowing students to communicate and do research together internationally.

Although the XO laptop has not been introduced to all developing countries, OLCP has received positive feedback from the communities that are participating in the testing program. Jepsen has lofty goals for the XO laptop as well, as she has started to develop a similar computer for high-end users to help fund the OLPC program. If her plans pan out, the $100 cost could be reduced to $75 or even $50.