A cheap laptop in the hands of every child in the developing world. It's the kind of dream reminiscent of the dotcom fervor of the 1990s - and a personal goal of Nicholas Negroponte since the 1980s. But only recently has the funding been secured to move forward on his goal: a portable computer that can survive excessive dust and 130-degree days, recharge itself in villages with no power, and hook up to the Internet when the nearest server is hundreds of miles away. The cost? No more than $100.
"What actually happened was I got sufficiently irritated by people telling me it wasn't possible," says Mr. Negroponte, chairman and cofounder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here in Cambridge. "I'm a firm believer that half of the solution comes from sheer resolve."
As fraught with challenge as it is full of potential, say experts, Negroponte's idea has been gaining momentum since he announced the initiative at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. If successful, the project would give millions of students in developing countries a springboard to leapfrog the gap in skills, knowledge, and opportunities that separates them from their peers in developed countries.
In trips to China every six weeks or so, Negroponte is pushing for government officials there to publicly adopt a "one laptop per child" goal, to be reached by 2010, with laptops ready to sell by the end of 2006.
Crucial to making the project work is achieving the proper economy of scale, observers say. "This project depends on there being millions of orders when this project is first released," says Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "How do you get that many people to take that big a leap of faith?"