Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Future of Textbooks: $100 laptops

The Future of Textbooks: $100 laptops

Generally, I don’t highlight articles that I read in prominent newspapers like the New York Times, but to today I found something worth sharing. The current issue of the New York Times had an article highlighted in their technology section about the development of laptops for the children of third world countries. What a noble idea! Possible? Most computer industry executives laughed when they heard about the idea, but they’re not laughing anymore. The laptops have been designed and developed and they will begin production on the laptops in early 2007. Although, their developers missed their goal of $100 per laptop, they were able to develop a laptop for less than $150. Now that’s cool!

Mary Lou Jepsen is responsible for this really cool humanitarian project. Mary Lou Jepsen is the founding chief technology officer of One Laptop Per Child whose large-scale humanitarian mission is to deliver low-cost, mesh-networked laptops en-masse to the disadvantaged children of developing countries. One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is a non-profit association dedicated to research to develop a $100 laptop—a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children. Faculty members at the MIT Media Lab launched this initiative. It was first announced by Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte, now chairman of OLPC, at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2005. Now, these laptops are a reality thanks to new developments in monitor technology. However, these laptops are missing a hard drive and this is something that will have to be addressed in the future. Nevertheless, the concept and now reality of inexpensive laptops for children makes the endeavor more than worthwhile. How cool!

Just as cool is the concept of a self-assembling “mesh” network to keep the computers connected. The mesh network is based on Internet repeater technology and connects computer to computer to computer meaning that each computer works as an Internet repeater for the next computer over varying distances. Actually, each neighbor helps his or her neighbor connect to the Internet via a built in Internet repeater. Hence, the computers help each other stay connected to the Internet. The repeater technology comes from BISON AKA Biology-Inspired techniques for Self-Organization in dynamic Networks. An interesting article about BISON can be found at Nobel Internet. The concept and near reality of the inexpensive laptops for third world children is great.

The potential of these machines for all K12 children seems limitless. With this inexpensive technology all students should have a laptop in lieu of the traditional textbook in the near future. However, before such an endeavor is possible, designers of these laptops and future laptops will need to address the hard drive issue and come up with a viable solution to store and manage data. As such, major textbook companies need to look into these laptops as supplements to current textbooks. Hypothetically speaking, in the future students will have laptops and teachers will store textbooks in the classroom. Laptops are already replacing textbooks in some areas and with cheaper laptops available more and more will be replaced as we move forward into the 21st century. Isn’t technology cool?

William Bishop (Bill)

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