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
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
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

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders