$100 laptop trials begin within weeks

Project leader Nicholas Negroponte tells us that widespread field tests of the portable computers will start next month, with working devices set to roll off the production line in November
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

Reports that trials of the $100 laptop project will kick off in Thailand alone have been quashed by Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) association.

He claimed on Monday that field trials will start everywhere the laptop is required at roughly the same time.

In an email sent to ZDNet UK, Negroponte said reports that trials of the machine would initially be limited to Thailand were inaccurate. Instead "visual models and developer board demos" will be sent to Nigeria in September and Thailand in October for field trials.

"Trials start everywhere at the same time," insisted Negroponte, adding that some journalists have erred by writing about a single country's involvement and touting it as "the first" deployment.

The first working, integrated laptops built on an assembly line, which Negroponte describes as "B-Machines", should be produced in November, he added. These devices will be "tested to destruction," he claimed.

Earlier this month, reports that Brazil, Nigeria, Argentina and Thailand had signed million-unit contracts for the device were later refuted by an OLPC spokesperson.

"We have not signed any agreements for orders, but we are in communication with the countries mentioned. OLPC has asked that all interested parties wait to see a working machine before placing their orders," the spokesperson told ZDNet UK.

Meanwhile, in an interview with eWeek, Mary Lou Jepsen, the chief technology officer of the OLPC programme, said that the group has solved one of its main stumbling blocks — a flexible and cheap display that can be read in direct sunlight.

"We now have a display that can readily be mass-produced in standard LCD factories, with no process changes. Our display has higher resolution than 95 percent of the laptop displays on the market today; approximately one-seventh of the power consumption; one-third of the price; sunlight readability; and room-light readability with the backlight off," the group claimed on a posting on its Wiki site.

The One Laptop per Child project aims to develop a portable PC for use by children in the developing world for around $100 (£50). The price has risen since the scheme was first announced to around $135 to $140, according to Negroponte.

"It is a floating price. We are a non-profit organisation, we have a target of $100 by 2008 but probably it will be $135, maybe $140. That is a start price but what we have to do is with every release make it cheaper and cheaper — we are promising that the price will go down," Negroponte told the Red Hat Summit in Nashville in June.

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