What Does OLPC Mean for Industry?

Dennis Byron

I doubt if the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program itself is the driving force behind appliance technology for industrial purposes. But the OLPC educational program for children in lesser developed regions of the world is sure pointing out what to look for in new mobile devices for industry and commerce.


Given its Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pedigree, OLPC has ready access to the same ideas as the leading IT suppliers. Those suppliers don't want to tip their hands to new ideas too many months advance, so as to keep competitors guessing. But the non-profit OLPC is not like most IT suppliers, so it has no reservations about letting us know what it will be releasing two years from now.


OLPC's first generation small-footprint, low-power-consumption product is called the XO. It went into production in November 2007, and there are approximately 600,000 units now deployed in Peru, Uruguay, Mongolia, Haiti, Rwanda, Mexico, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq and Afghanistan. Key goals for the next-generation XO-2 include an even lower target price of $75 (OLPC hopes to get the XO down to $100 from its current $188), a reduction of power consumption to 1 watt (from current average 3), and half the size (approximately the size of a book). It's the latter characteristic and analogy that intrigues me from an industrial and commercial perspective, although the power consumption goal might also become meaningful to enterprises given the cost of energy. OLPC says:

"Dual-touch sensitive displays will be used to enhance the e-book experience... The design provides a right and left page in vertical format, a hinged laptop in horizontal format, and a flat two-screen wide continuous surface that can be used in tablet mode."

Mesh networking gives many machines Internet access from one connection. There are an awful lot of industrial and commercial applications for commercially available appliances with those characteristics.


The dual-touch display is being designed by Pixel Qi, which was founded early this year by Mary Lou Jepsen, former chief technology officer of OLPC. So that's the company to watch from an IT management perspective. Watch to see if Pixel hooks up with your favored systems supplier as it becomes an appliance provider. (Pixel Qi also has no press releases; it must be an MIT thing. It may already have such relationships.)


Or if you are large enough, try to make a direct deal with OLPC whereby you pay $150 per appliance and some deserving student gets an XO-2 free. OLPC ran a similar program for consumers during the 2007 holiday season. Why not corporations?

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