Hand-cranked computers: Is this a wind-up?

Hand-cranked computers cheap enough for every child in the world? It sounds ideal, but not everyone is happy. Jimmy Lee Shreeve reports

Dubbed the "green machine", MIT's crank-handle-powered laptop is being hailed as an invention that will revolutionise education in the developing world. And when you're unveiling such a piece of technology, you clearly don't want any mishaps.

But, fortunately, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was able to hide his embarrassment when he accidentally snapped the crank-handle off the prototype, lime green-coloured laptop he was helping to showcase at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis last Thursday.

He had little cause to worry, though: the laptop, which he described as an "expression of global solidarity", was actually a non-functioning model of a design dreamed up by Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. As Negroponte told the Summit, his aim is to put an internet- and wi-fi-enabled laptop in the hands of every child in the developing world by 2010.

The proposed laptop, which was announced in January this year, will be powered by a wind-up mechanism (for areas where no electricity is available) and will have very low power consumption. According to Negroponte, access to IT will make all the difference to education in the developing world. "Studies have shown that kids take up computers much more easily [than adults] in the comfort of warm, well-lit, rich-country living rooms, but also in the slums and remote areas all around the developing world," he said.

The technology visionary - who founded Wired magazine - has set up a not-for-profit organisation called One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) to sell the laptops for $100 to the governments of developing nations. The idea is that the governments will then distribute the machines for free.

Children will have a choice as to how to use the green machine - as a conventional computer or as an electronic book. The device will have an 8in screen, and it will be possible to hold it much as you would a hand-held games console. It will also function as a TV. "The idea is that it fulfils many roles. It is the whole theory that learning is seamless," said Negroponte.

To save money, green machines will run off the open source Linux operating system, which is free, instead of a proprietary system such as Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X. The machines will have a modest 500MHz processor (slow by today's standards, but not much of a problem when running Linux OS), and will be fitted with 1GB of flash memory rather than a hard drive, which is more delicate due to its moving parts. The laptops will be full-colour, capable of wireless connection to the internet, and encased in rubber. Even the machines' AC adaptors double as carrying straps.

Five corporate sponsors, including Google and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), have chipped in $2m (£1.2m) apiece to the project. Negroponte has specified that each country orders a million units minimum, in order to keep costs down, and half a dozen developing countries have already expressed serious interest. Also, the United Nations Development Programme has agreed to help with the distribution of the machines to countries whose orders fall below the million-unit bar.

Expectations are high, with mass distribution expected late next year or early in 2007. But some are sceptical. After all, what was on display at the World Summit on the Information Society earlier this month was only a mock-up.

The inventor Trevor Baylis, who created the clockwork radio, has doubts. After being invited to MIT Media Lab to view the prototype, he commented: "It could have been put together with a Lego kit. Nothing worked. I was expecting him to show me the screen in action or the wind-up feature, but I saw nothing but a basic prototype."

Another worry is what will happen to the laptops after they've been handed out free. The average Nigerian, for example, makes less than £600 a year, so a family would have a strong incentive to sell the laptop. Negroponte, however, says that you simply need to find a way to remove the secondary market: "One solution would be to make sure the machine will be disabled if it doesn't log in to the network for a few days," he suggests.

There is even some doubt as to whether Negroponte will be able to keep the price down to $100. He himself admits that negotiations with governments have been "very hard", and that price quotes to build the laptops remain closer to $110 than $100.

But even Baylis says: "If Negroponte has done it, full marks to the guy." And, as history has shown, people with vision usually find a way to make their ideas reality.

For more information, see laptop.media.mit.edu/

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

Cover Supervisors/Teaching Assistants Secondary Schools in York

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors/Long Term Teaching Ass...

Science Teacher

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher...

Cover Supervisor

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors needed for seco...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker