Negroponte: US$100 laptop trials to kick off

Widespread field tests of portable PCs for children in the developing world will start next month, the project's chairman says.
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

Reports that trials of the US$100 laptop project will kick off in Thailand alone have been quashed by Nicholas Negroponte.

Negroponte, the chairman of the One Laptop per Child group, said Monday that field trials of its low-cost PC for children in the developing world will start everywhere the laptop is required at roughly the same time.

In an e-mail sent to CNET News.com's sister site ZDNet UK, Negroponte said reports that trials would initially be limited to Thailand were inaccurate. "Visual models and developer board demos" will be sent to Nigeria in September, and to Thailand in October, for field trials, he said.

"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 described as "B-Machines," should be produced in November, he added. These devices will be "tested to destruction," he said.

Earlier this month, reports that Brazil, Nigeria, Argentina and Thailand had signed million-unit contracts for the device were refuted by an OLPC representative. "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 representative told ZDNet UK.

In an interview with eWeek, Mary Lou Jepsen, the chief technology officer of the OLPC program, 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 (liquid crystal display) factories, with no process changes," OLPC noted in a posting on its wiki site. "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."

While the initial goal of the OLPC project was to develop a portable PC for use in the developing world for around US$100, the likely cost has risen to around US$135 to US$140, Negroponte wrote.

"It is a floating price. We are a non-profit organization. We have a target of US$100 by 2008, but probably it will be US$135, maybe US$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 attendees of the Red Hat Summit in Nashville in June.

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