It's my birthday today (woot), so India is celebrating by debuting a prototype of their $20 laptop during a National Mission on Education launch in Tirupati. OK, so it's actually just coincidence that they're showing it on my birthday, but still, I figured it was worthy of a bit of attention.
Details are still sketchy and even with the time difference, I'm not seeing actual footage yet. I'll try to update this post with any pictures that emerge during daylight hours in the States.
Quick update: There still isn't any footage coming out of the launch that I've been able to pick up, but the Guardian has an article worth reading about the proposed laptop with a few more details.
Another article, a few more details, and still no pictures; feel free to post links if you find anything. Here's the article from Information Week.
It's an interesting proposition, though. Unlike the OLPC XO, which was directed towards children, the so-called $20 laptop is aimed squarely at India's exploding higher education market.
As the Financial Times points out, India has been cool to foreign investment in new universities:
Leading universities across the world, such as Kellogg School of Management in the US and Imperial College in the UK, are exploring different models, including faculty partnerships, distance learning and setting up campuses.
But the government appears to favour turning to technology ahead of international partnerships to bring people into higher education.
However, when even Nicholas Negroponte raises his eyebrows at cost projections and manufacturing timetables, it's a red flag. As he told the Boston Globe,
"I fear it is not serious," said Negroponte in an e-mail "We'd love a $20 laptop, but the display costs more."
In a rare twist of fate, he's actually right, meaning that the government would have to be seriously subsidizing each unit. The Indian government has also not found a manufacturing partner, making their prediction of commercial availability in 6 months seem a bit far-fetched.
I hope they can do it. Combined with a growing telecommunications infrastructure, this could define how to do distance learning at a very large scale. For once, though, I have to agree with Negroponte. The Indian government needs to be transparent in terms of their subsidies as well as the research leading to what will invariably be a very cheap laptop so that others can capitalize on it.