One Laptop Gets $5.6M Grant From Marvell to Develop Next Generation Tablet Computer

10/4/10Follow @bbuderi

The One Laptop per Child Foundation and Santa Clara, CA-based semiconductor maker Marvell have cemented a partnership announced last spring, with Marvell agreeing to provide OLPC with $5.6 million to fund development of its next generation tablet computer, OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte tells me. Negroponte says the deal, signed in the past week or so but not previously announced, runs through 2011.

“Their money is a grant to the OLPC Foundation to develop a tablet or tablets based on their chip,” he says. “They’re going to put the whole system on a chip.”

The OLPC tablet, which Negroponte hinted at last November in an interview with my colleague Wade Roush and formally announced last December, is known as the XO 3 because it represents the third-generation of the XO laptop currently sold by OLPC (the foundation scrapped plans for its e-book-like XO 2 computer and is moving straight to the tablet). Marvell is a longtime corporate sponsor of the foundation, but with this grant has formally stepped up to take the lead on engineering development. “They’ve been sponsors all along,” Negroponte says. “But they were one of ten. Now they are the technology partner.” The deal, he says, means the tablet’s development is “fully funded.”

Negroponte also reiterated what he said back in May—that Marvell and OLPC will have something concrete to show at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas early this January. He stopped short of promising a working prototype, however. And he emphasized another point he has also made previously—that whatever will be shown will not relate directly to the XO 3.

Instead, it will form the basis of what might be called an interim step, a tablet developed by Marvell (and also apparently modeled partly on its own Moby tablet for the education market) that is intended for children in the developed world. As such, it won’t be the machine OLPC wants to distribute in developing nations. That tablet would be made entirely out of plastic, so that it is bendable but unbreakable, and would have a dual-mode display that works indoors as well as in bright sunlight. The Marvell tablet will also utilize the Android operating system, while the XO 3 will be based on Linux, among other differences, Negroponte says.

“The first one would definitely not have our brand. It’s a First World machine,” Negroponte says. The plans are for Marvell to develop this initial machine, in partnership with OEMs and a partner in education, and release it for sale sometime in 2011, he says.

Negroponte says a follow-on version, based more completely on OLPC’s designs, will hopefully be ready in 2012. “The second one…would have our brand on it, because it will be identified with and for the developing world,” he says.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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