The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has been making a few headlines lately, with Intel apparently burying the hatchet and joining the organizations’ board and production getting underway on the XO laptop. Now, OLPC’s chief technology officer Mary Lou Jepson has rekindled speculation that the organization may offer the XO laptop commercially in developed markets like the United States. According to Jepson, OLPC is talking with unnamed companies with an eye toward offering the systems for sale via the Internet, perhaps at a price near $350, roughly twice the current production cost of the system.
The OLPC XO laptop was initially designed for use in elementary school in developing economies; it runs its own Linux-based interface and operating system, utilizes flash-based storage and a processor from AMD, and offers a high-resolution display which is even visible in direct sunlight. The units support wireless mesh networking, and can run off 12 hours with a single battery charge—can can even be hand-powered using a crank, pedal, or pull-cord. The systems are designed to withstand the rigorous use of children: their durability, cost, and interface may make them attractive to children in developed nations, and even to some adults.
The current speculation follows on rumors earlier this year that OLPC systems might be offered for sale to consumers in developed economies, perhaps via eBay. At the time, OLPC quashed the speculation, indicating it intended to focus on technical and development issues for the time being, and didn’t want to be distracted by adding a goal of selling units to consumers. Now, things appear to have changed: although Jepson declined to identify the companies OLPC is talking to, the goal of offering OLPC systems to general consumers would be to increase demand for the units, thereby reducing the overall per-unit cost as manufacturing volume increases. The end result would be that consumers in developing nations would somewhat subsidize the cost of XO laptops to developing nations’ educational systems.
The OLPC foundation has formally authorized the production of three million XO laptops, beginning in October. The systems will be manufactured by Taiwan’s Quanta Computer, a leading contract electronics manufacturer which also makes systems for Dell, Gateway, Apple, HP, Sony, and others.