The green plastic XO computer, created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte, is designed to withstand searing heat, freezing cold, and the harsh conditions of far-flung villages. It can also be charged with a solar panel or hand crank, so kids who live in thatched huts can use it.
But, for two weeks, starting November 12, Negroponte hopes that kids all over America will get the low-cost laptop — and give one at the same time.
It's part of a new campaign called "Give 1 Get 1," designed to help kick-start a very ambitious goal for the nonprofit foundation he created, called One Laptop Per Child — to put laptops in the hands of every child in the developing world.
"For $399, Americans will have the opportunity to buy one of these laptops. But, when they do that, it also generates a laptop for a kid in Africa, or a kid in Peru, or a kid in Cambodia," Negroponte told ABC News. "Laptops can help kids learn … The goal is for every single child in the entire world to have the opportunity to learn."
Beyond Learning: The 'Coolness' Factor
The XO computer looks like no other laptop you have ever seen. It's bright green and white plastic, with rounded corners. It's kid-proof — so, it can be dropped or get wet, and still work.
The screen is easy to read outdoors in bright sunlight. And it's lightweight: at just over 3 pounds, it weighs about the same as a lunch box.
"People will buy it for the coolness factor," said David Kirkpatrick, Fortune magazine's senior editor of Internet and technology. "You get a $200 tax write-off, in addition to getting a really cool laptop; that, next to the i-Phone, is the coolest computer — the coolest new technology device on the planet."
But, without a built-in hard drive, or the ability to run Microsoft Windows, will American kids — who are used to high speed, high powered computers — really go for the XO computer?
When ABC News observed a class of first- and second-graders using the laptop at King Open School in Cambridge, Mass., last week, it didn't take long to get the answer.
"It's great, it's too great, I wanna keep this," said one little boy.
"It's so light, and I can pick it up," another boy said.
"You can use it for your homework," a little girl added.
The kids we observed seemed to love the games, the Internet chats, the music synthesizer, and, especially, the built-in camera. They didn't seem to care about the size of the computer's memory, or the fact that each laptop comes loaded with 1,000 books.
"It is definitely about fun," said Negroponte. "It is about fun, because, when you have fun doing things, you learn a great deal more."
Little Green Miracles
For Negroponte, it's all about learning.
"If you can just make learning more a part of their life, more fun, more seamless, something they do at home, seven days a week … then you are going to see, in my opinion, a form of inoculation," Negroponte said. "Think of it as a vaccination program, and you are inoculating children against ignorance."
Pilot programs in several developing countries, such as Brazil, Uruguay, Libya, Nigeria, and Thailand have been successful, according to Walter Bender, director of software content for One Laptop Per Child, who also runs focus groups on the laptop. For example:
In a remote corner of Uruguay, according to Bender, a 10-year-old girl posted a video on YouTube of a cow giving birth, just days after she saw her first laptop.
In Nigeria, a teacher who used to use a stick in his classroom to discipline the children, threw the stick out the window a few weeks after the kids started using laptops.
And in Thailand, when the government couldn't figure out how to build a dam to stop flooding in a village, kids used their laptops to figure out how and where to build it. The village has been thriving ever since.
"People say you should only have one miracle per project," said Negroponte, "but this little green thing has about 10 miracles in it."
"I think it's a revolutionary device," Kirkpatrick said. "It's really the first time that anybody has built a machine, specifically for poor kids, in quantity."
Obstacles to Getting Laptops in Kids' Hands
Since the One Laptop Per Child foundation was created, 11 formal partners have put in about $40 million to pay for engineering and development.
But, the costs of the so-called $100 laptop have been higher than expected — about $187 apiece now — and the orders have been slower than expected.
Few countries were willing to commit to buying enough laptops, to make it economically feasible to manufacture them. Which is why Negroponte is counting on the generosity of Americans to trigger what he hopes will be "an avalanche" of laptops around the world.
"The Give 1 Get 1 program allows us to seed laptops in countries," said Negroponte. "If we can start getting some machines into Rwanda, for example, as we will — they will be one of the recipients — then, it will inspire maybe richer countries to support [the program]."
Critics: Do Starving Kids Need Laptops?
Critics charge that, in countries where children are starving, and people only make $170 a year, spending nearly $200 for a laptop is a luxury that doesn't make sense.
The children in those countries, they say, need food and medicine, not laptops.
But, Negroponte said the laptop isn't a luxury — it's as crucial as education.
"If children are starving, they need food. If they are dying of some disease, they need medicine, and obviously, at that moment, those things come first," he said.
"But, nobody would ever say, 'should we have clean drinking water, or education?' Nobody would ever set aside education, so, I think of the laptop as synonymous with education, and if you look at its cost, prorated, let's say, over five years, it is really very little."
If the Give 1 Get 1 program is successful, Negroponte hopes to produce 100 million laptops a year over the next few years.
And, if that happens, he says, "you are going to see a very different world, because kids are innately global — they are sort of inactive learners, and it would take us to a very different planet — a lot more opportunities for peace, and eliminating poverty if you had a world that is more educated."
For More Information: One Laptop Per Child: http://laptop.org