When Nicholas Negroponte (above, right) of the MIT Media Lab showed off a prototype OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) at NetEvents in Hong Kong, ZDNet UK's Rupert Goodwins was there with his camera. You can read a transcript of Negroponte's talk here.
The first picture from inside the Shanghai factory where the OLPC is being built. The laptop just visible in the bottom left-hand corner is the very unit demonstrated at NetEvents, according to Nicholas Negroponte, although it still sports prototype plastic, electronics and software. The button for full-scale production won't be pressed until July 2007.
The original idea of having a human-powered generator in the laptop has been dropped as impracticable, but it's still necessary to have an alternative to mains or batteries. This is a sketch of a hand-held generator where power is produced by pulling the ring and the main body apart. A small girl can generate around 10 watts, a burly boy about 20-25W. As the OLPC takes 2W, this gives between 5 and 10 times the computing time as spent charging it.
The desktop interface for the OLPC is based around the icon for a user, the X with a dot on top. In this screen, it shows users within wireless range and what they're doing — collaborating on two pictures, writing a document and browsing the web.
Here, the user has got three tasks on the go at the same time: editing a document, drawing a picture and a web interface.
Nicholas Negroponte: founder of MIT Media Labs, Wired Magazine and chief executive of the One Laptop Per Child project — or shape-changing alien space cat? You decide.
Negroponte shows off the OLPC as it boots. He was genuinely nervous as it started up — and just as genuinely delighted when it successfully launched itself (slowly) into the main screen. This prototype runs slower than the final device because one critical piece of hardware is still unfinished (although the final chip had been finished the day before, according to Negroponte).
A happy chief executive confirms the blog-worthiness of the OLPC.
The first view of the OLPC at NetEvents. The keyboard is formed from a single sheet of rubber, rather like the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and has quite a fine pitch. This combination makes it hard to type on fast or accurately — but this is a prototype, so there's plenty of time for the feel to be tweaked prior to launch.
The first web page — aside from Google — displayed by the OLPC at NetEvents, live from the Net via the Wi-Fi provided by the hotel hosting the event. The browser is a Mozilla derivative and the formatting on the original page is designed for higher resolution, but the result is still readable and usable.
The text of the blog, posted just a moment before this picture was taken, is much more legible than this picture suggests. The screen technology in the OLPC is brand-new, and combines elements of both transmissive and reflective LCD design.
The camera to the right of the OLPC's screen relays real-time video, in this case with evidence of photo-journalism taking place. Note also the stereo speakers and the microphone — even the 500MHz processor fitted to the machine should be able to run a videoconferencing application over the network. However, the power implications of this — and the network usage for places with little or no bandwidth — have yet to be tested.
At an event filled with people concerned with global networks, the biggest of big businesses and the future of the information economy, the biggest draw was a small computer with the power of a ten-year-old PC and the livery of a Fisher-Price Activity Centre.