Negroponte Outlines the Future of OLPC—Hints at Paperlike Design for Third Generation Laptop

[Updated 11/2/09 with additional details about 3rd-generation laptop design, see page 2] After the October 24 announcement that the Internet Archive is about to make 1.6 million e-books available free to children with XO Laptops from the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, we decided it was time to catch up with OLPC’s founder and chairman, Nicholas Negroponte. The organization has been through drastic changes of late, including a round of layoffs early this year necessitated by disappointing holiday 2008 sales and the pullout of major sponsors, and the subsequent spinoff of its sales and education-software efforts. But last time we talked with Negroponte, back in January, he had ambitious plans for rebooting the One Laptop effort, with an emphasis on getting the computers into new markets.

We wondered how the organization was progressing toward some of the goals Negroponte had laid out in the January interview. Last week, he took time on a recent plane trip to respond to a set of written questions. We’ve reproduced them below, with a few explanatory comments appended.

Of perhaps greatest interest, Negroponte told us the organization has scrapped plans unveiled in May 2008 for an e-book-like second-generation XO laptop, instead focusing on an upgraded version of the current XO and designs for a “3.0” version of the device that will be “more like a sheet of paper.” And whereas the XO was once described as the “hundred-dollar laptop,” Negroponte said experience has indicated that the total cost of ownership for the device, including Internet connectivity, is closer to $1 per week per child. This amount is “high” but “not outrageous,” in Negroponte’s view; he says discussion in most countries where OLPC is operating has shifted away from whether the machines aid education efforts and toward how to pay for them.

Xconomy: What do you see as the main significance in the Internet Archive making e-books available for the XO Laptop?

Nicholas Negroponte: A further example of why olpc (lowercase) is not just education as we knew it and how learning opportunity can reach the most isolated places in the world.

[Editor’s comment: As Negroponte explains below, the organization is actually two separate bodies now—the One Laptop Per Child Association, which builds the XO Laptop, and the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, whose mission is to stimulate grassroots technology and education efforts in developing countries. Both groups are undergoing a rebranding of sorts, switching from OLPC to the lowercase “olpc.”]

X: You had set as a goal back in January one million digital books. Looks like you overshot. Do you have a new goal? Five million?

NN: No. The next few million do not matter. It is like laptops. There are over a million in the hands of kids in 19 languages and 31 countries. The next million are … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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