The OLPC project aimed at building a $100 laptop, able to operate for at least five years in a developing country. To achieve this, the team of designers assembled by Nicholas Negroponte was able to embed in the XO-1, a light and compact object weighing just 1.5 kg, a concentration of innovative technological solutions, absent even in high-end laptops, including:
- An open source operating system called Sugar, derived from Linux, specifically designed to stimulate learning in a collaborative environment, promoting co-production and sharing of multimedia content.
- A wireless connection system, known as mesh networking ,which allows the XO-1 laptop to automatically connect with other geographically-close laptops, without any user interaction. To remedy the lack of internet connections, the connection of a single laptop can be automatically shared by all those involved in the mesh network, even miles away. The peculiar antennas located on the lid of XO-1, which remind the children of a rabbit’s ears, allow each laptop to communicate with others within a radius of 1 km.
- The ability to transform the XO-1, with a simple twist of the screen, in an eBook reader. Each laptop can store hundreds of eBooks, and can share them with all other nodes in the network. What’s more, the screen is configured to switch from a high-resolution color mode, to a monochrome high-contrast mode, which allows one to read even when the screen is exposed to the sun and reduces battery consumption (in eBook mode the batteries can last up to 24 hours).
- Unparalleled energy efficiency: with an absorption of between 3 and 6W, compared with more than 100W of a traditional laptop, the XO-1 is one of the most efficient computers, and can be recharged even where no electricity grid is available, using chargers that exploit the sun or other alternate energy sources.
- The ability to operate in extreme conditions: the XO-1 has no moving parts (HD, fan, CD-DVD) or holes which could allow the infiltration of sand or dust, and can withstand a storm. The mechanical parts are designed so that the repair is very simple and can be performed directly by the little users, thus becoming itself a moment of collaborative learning.
Nicholas Negroponte, founder of OLPC, thinks that the changes being ushered in by the iPad are going to be a tremendous benefit to the nearly 2 billion kids in the world who don't have access to books, a library, and in many cases, no schools or electricity.
In the April issue of Wired magazine (of which Negropone was the first investor), he writes on how the iPad can evolve into the device that will push the OLPC idea toward reality.