Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT professor behind the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, is playing the role of the quirky idealist nicely. His latest plan? To drop the project’s new XO-3 tablets from helicopters to locations outside of remote villages.
He revealed his unorthodox plan Wednesday at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco. The third iteration of his low-cost tablet is designed to withstand both 30-foot drops and rain. According to PC Magazine, the XO-3 runs on solar power, making it ideal for isolated villages that lack electricity, and will be pre-loaded with 100 books and equipped with wireless internet connectivity.
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The XO-3 tablet was first announced back in May of 2010, when the OLPC team told Techland that it would be powered by a 1GHz SoC from Marvell with a haptic-feedback touchscreen and the capability to encode and decode 1080p video files and run full Flash.
The idea is that the kids from these villages would essentially find the tablets outside, take them home, and start learning. This bit of techno-optimism—that children without vital infrastructure like electricity and a functioning school system can teach themselves with the help of computers—is partly based on the findings Dr. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiments, in which he and his colleagues installed an internet-enabled PC in a hole in the wall in an Indian slum and monitored how the kids taught themselves how to use it.
No one has attempted anything like this in villages so remote they can only be reached by helicopter, though, so it remains to be seen how Negroponte’s plan will pan out. Ars Technica offers a rundown of the OLPC’s problems, from higher-than-expected prices and internal conflicts to lack of hardware support abroad. The OLPC website claims that “over 2 million children and teachers in 42 countries are learning with XO laptops today.”