MP seeks solar-powered laptop for developing world

Sponsors are sought for a £250,000 prize for a sub-£50 solar-powered laptop - but is the goal attainable?

A UK MP has proposed a competition for the first company to come up with a solar-powered laptop costing less than £50, intended for use in the developing world. The so-called Babbage Prize could become a regular event, picking a new technology issue every time it is offered, according to Derek Wyatt, MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Mr Wyatt is attempting to gather corporate sponsors for what would be the first Babbage Prize, and has suggested the solar-powered laptop as a suitable first goal. Technological development is usually aimed at the developed world, said Wyatt, speaking on the BBC's Today programme. Wyatt said that since companies manage to produce £200 PCs with "too many features", it should be possible to create a £50 model which does just enough. The solar-powered laptop should be designed to be manufactured in the developing world to avoid paying high import charges to developed countries. The contest could be judged by an independent body such as the Oxford Internet Institute, said Wyatt. Wyatt visited Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia in 2000 on a grant from the UK Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He said the idea for the Babbage Prize was inspired by UK government support for work on the first ever computer, Babbage's Difference Engine (it spent £17,000 on it up to 1841), and similar prizes offered for feats such as the reliable calculation of longitude (won by John Harrison, 1693-1776).

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