I want to teach the world to surf, says the man who invented the $100 laptop

One man in Boston has a plan that he hopes will bridge the world's gaping digital divide - and quickly. The visionary is Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his idea consists of a new kind of laptop computer that will cost just $100 (£57) to buy.

It will also be a little different in design from the sleek machines some of us in the west have learned to love or covet. It will be foldable in different ways, encased in bump-proof rubber and will include a hand-crank to give it power in those corners of the globe where electricity supply is patchy.

The first prototype of the machine should be ready by November and Mr Negroponte - who was one of the first prophets of the internet before most of us understood the word - hopes to put them into production next year.

In fact, he expects to churn out about 15 million of them within one year, shipping most of them at first to children in Brazil, Egypt, Thailand and South Africa.

Describing the unusual design of his sub-laptop yesterday, Mr Negroponte insisted that it would "have to be absolutely indestructible". The mission is to create a tool that children almost anywhere can use and can easily carry between their classrooms and their homes. For that reason, for instance, the AC adaptor cable will double as a shoulder strap.

Support is also coming from closer to home. The Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has also committed to buying half a million of the machines for distribution to lower-income school students in the state.

The inspiration of the project, which has backing from US companies including Google, came to Mr Negroponte when he was travelling recently with his wife in Cambodia. He spotted children in a rural area carrying laptops - which the couple's foundation had donated - from school to their homes.

To cut costs, the machines would have a 500-megahertz processor provided by Advanced Micro Devices, which is a little slow by today's lightning-speed standards.

However, it would be set up for wireless connectivity, known as wi-fi, to give users the greatest chance of hooking up to the internet. It would run on a Linux platform, which is freely available, rather than Microsoft's more expensive Windows.

It is not the first time that someone has attempted to develop a rock-bottom price device to feed the potentially monumental market in developing countries for laptops. Part of the problem has been stopping donated machines leaking onto the commercial market.

Mr Negroponte said that his laptops would be so distinctive in design and look that stealing and re-selling them would be akin to stealing furniture from a church. People would recognise where they come from. The look of the devices, he said yesterday, meant there would be "socially a stigma to be carrying one if you are not a student or a teacher". Consequently, he imagines that no more than 2 per cent of the devices would fall into that murky "grey market".

Other features of the device include being able to switch from a full colour screen to a monochrome alternative, which will much more easily viewed in bright sunlight. In the first models, turning the crank for one minute will provide 10 minutes of power.

Mr Negroponte says that rather than getting more expensive, as some brands do, he hopes that his machines will get cheaper through economies of scale. He pointed out that $100 was still expensive in many parts of the world. And he also expects the technology to improve.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager - Software & Services

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

Recruitment Genius: QA Technician

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer of re...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, an experienced and hig...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat