It's been dubbed "the Green Machine," and since it was first conceived five years ago, the low-cost laptop has been ridiculed as a gadget and a toy. But American computer makers aren't laughing anymore.
For two weeks in November, the so-called $100 laptop is coming to America, and supporters say the nonprofit organization that makes it — called One Laptop Per Child — could become one of the largest laptop players in the United States in the next few years.
Some U.S. students have already reaped the benefits of the program. First- and second-graders at King Open School in Cambridge, Mass., are using the computers for a year as part of a pilot program.
"It's so light, and I can pick it up," one little boy said.
"You can use it for your homework," a little girl added.
According to One Laptop Per Child executive Walter Bender, who runs focus groups on the laptop with American children, some kids say it's cooler than a Thinkpad.
"Their daddy's Thinkpad can't be used outdoors in bright sunlight. It can't be dropped. It can't be charged with a solar panel, or a crank on a bicycle," said Bender. "Kids love it."
Give 1 Get 1 for Two Weeks Only
But the coolest thing about the computer may be something the kids in America don't see. Every time an American orders a laptop, during a two-week period from Nov. 12 to Nov. 26, a kid in a developing country will get one for free — it's called the Give 1, Get 1 program.
The total cost to the consumer: $400 for both laptops — a portion of which is tax deductible.
"You sign up, and, basically, donate a laptop to a child in another country," Nicholas Negroponte told ABC News. Negroponte, co-founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, created the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child in 2005.
The Give 1 Get 1 program, announced today on "Good Morning America," is the culmination of a dream for Negroponte. Since 2005, when he first came up with the idea, he has criss-crossed the globe, trying to convince government leaders to buy the low-cost laptops for their countries' children.
Many countries, like Brazil, Uruguay, Libya, Rwanda, and Thailand, have embraced the program, but poorer countries haven't been able to buy enough laptops to make it economically feasible to manufacture them.
With the Give 1 Get 1 program, Negroponte is counting on the generosity of Americans to help kick-start the program. By buying their own kids a cool new laptop, parents in the United States can help kids in a developing country, thousands of miles away, get a laptop, too.
Not a Luxury
Negroponte's goal is to design, manufacture and distribute laptop computers that are so affordable, that every child in the world will have access to one. His vision is for kids to take the computers home — particularly, if their home is a thatched hut — and share their newfound knowledge with their entire families.
Each laptop is programmed in the country's language with 1,000 books and other educational software. Pilot programs in countries ranging from Nigeria to Brazil to Uruguay have been successful, according to One Laptop Per Child executives.
Yet, critics argue that the laptop is a luxury, and not an essential need when dealing with the extreme poverty found in many Third World countries.
"If you think of it as a laptop, then it is a luxury," Negroponte said. "But, if you think of it as education, it's not a luxury."
$100 Laptop for $200
From the beginning, Negroponte envisioned selling the laptop for $100 — but he's not there yet. Right now, the manufacturing cost runs closer to $200; hence, the $400 cost for two laptops in the Get 1 Give 1 program.
The price is expected to drop as more computers are manufactured, with an ultimate goal of producing 100 million laptops a year. Current projections are that they will reach the $100 per laptop goal by the end of 2009.
Kid-Proof and Desert-Proof
The laptop is designed to be kid-proof, withstanding things like milk spills and drops of up to 5 feet. It's been frozen in refrigerators and heated in ovens at 140 degrees in high humidity.
But it's not just a toy. The laptop was built to last for five years in extreme conditions — from the African desert to the heat of a Mumbai summer.
According to Negroponte, there were three crucial elements in designing the laptop.
First, the computer display had to be bright enough to be easily read in bright sunlight.
Second, it had to be very low power, so users could wind it up. The reason was simple: 50 percent of the kids in the world don't have electricity. With this laptop, kids can recharge the battery with hand cranks or solar power.
Third, it had to be fun — with video, cameras, a music synthesizer, and games that kids will want to play with.
By giving kids their own laptops, Negroponte believes they will get excited about school and learning. "Our goal is to leverage the children, themselves," he said.
For more information on One Laptop Per Child, go to http://laptop.org.