The computers are designed for children, boast extremely low electricity consumption, a pulley for hand-generated power, 1 gigabyte of flash memory, built-in wireless networking and a screen with indoor and outdoor reading modes.
"There are 1 billion school-age children in the developing world and most don't have an opportunity to learn," said Walter Bender, president of software for the One Laptop project. "We're trying to go where there's an education gap, as technology happens to be a vehicle to bridge that gap." "The laptops all talk to each other automatically have voice chat, file sharing and all that can be done between laptops without Internet," "If any laptop has access to the Internet all can share it." The machines come loaded with children's books in local languages, along with encyclopedias and more. The laptops currently cost about $175, though the project believes the price will drop to $100 price once the machines are mass-manufactured. Bender said he even hopes the price might be driven down "some day" to $50 each. Uruguay, a small South American country, is one of about a dozen developing nations that signaled interest in participating. The first laptops, along with a wireless Internet connection, were the gift of the One Laptop Per Child project, a nonprofit foundation that has received funding from several companies, including Red Hat Inc., Google Inc. and News Corp. On May 10, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez handed over the "XO" laptops to the school serving Villa Cardal, a community set amid dairy cattle pastures and farmlands about 55 miles north of the capital of Montevideo. The machines are the first in South America from the much-publicized "One Laptop Per Child" project, which hopes to put low-cost portable PCs in the hands of children in developing countries. Uruguay has fully embraced the laptop project amid high hopes to have laptop computers in the hands of all elementary school students before 2009. And while the first computers to Uruguay were donated, the rest are to be bought by the government, which has budgeted $15 million for the program. A final agreement, however, is still pending. The Villa Cardal students' enthusiasm is something program supporters hope to see repeated in schools worldwide: Other countries that have expressed interest include Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Rwanda and Thailand. Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is assisting the OLPC roll-out program in Uruguay. Five other Latin American countries have also expressed interest. IDRC supported a face-to-face meeting with partners to determine how to best analyze and evaluate the ongoing pilots and will support a future meeting scheduled to assess the initiative's progress. While many have hailed the project's attempt to bridge the world's digital divide, some have questioned the social and logistical issues surrounding its goals. IDRC is supporting an analysis of the issues surrounding the provision of laptops to children in developing countries. "For example, there is still a debate among some teachers on whether the government should be spending money on technology when many kids still need basic nutrition," says program officer Alicia Richero, who is based in IDRC's regional office in Montevideo. Concerns over theft, repairs, and maintenance have also been raised. However, Juan Grompone a local writer and computer engeener is optimistic. He says that Uruguay is a perfect location to test the feasibility of the one laptop per child program since the small country has only 300 000 primary school students. In addition, he says that the president is committed to the project and the national telecom company is pledging to provide Internet access to all schools by 2009. "When it comes to one laptop per child, Uruguay will be the laboratory for the world," he says.