November 16, 2006 5:55 PM PST

A $100 laptop prototype for $150

SANTA CLARA, Calif.?The One Laptop per Child project on Thursday showed off the latest prototype of what's widely known as the $100 laptop for school children in developing nations. The only hitch is that the computer costs $150 to make.

Walter Bender, president of software for the Massachusetts-based nonprofit OLPC, said that higher-than-expected costs for the laptop's display and battery (made of nickel-metal hydride) hiked up the price.

"The goal is to get it to $100 by 2008," Bender said at the Silicon Valley Challenge Summit, being held at Santa Clara University.

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The price per device has been creeping upward. Earlier this year, OLPC founder and chairman Nicholas Negroponte said the group was looking at a range of $135 to $140.

Negroponte, who also co-founded the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, outlined the initial plan for the device at the World Economic Forum in January 2005. He envisioned developing a low-cost laptop that governments could afford and then redistribute to students for free, thus improving their educational opportunities.

Nearly two years later, the nonprofit has received a key working prototype from the Quanta factory in Shanghai; and it unveiled the laptop to technology executives convened Wednesday to discuss business possibilities and social change in developing nations.

Bender said that OLPC plans to debug the prototype, called B1, and then build a second prototype, B2. By the end of the second quarter of 2007, it plans to have a version of the laptop ready to ship to children in Libya, Nigeria, Brazil, and Argentina.

At that time, it plans to ship 1.2 million laptops to children and teachers in Libya, and roughly 4 million more to the other countries, Bender said.

The B1 prototype is a lime-green-and-white laptop that's roughly the size of a schoolbook. It's made of dirt-resistant materials such as a rubber membrane keyboard. Its features include a built-in video camera, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) capabilities, and a screen that swivels for e-book use. The dual-mode display can also be used in full-color mode, or in a black-and-white sunlight-readable mode.

It runs a version of the Linux operating system, as well as various applications developed by MIT researchers and open-source programmers around the world. For example, the University of Montreal built a music education application for the laptop.

Power for the laptops comes from conventional electric current or batteries, since many countries targeted in the plan do not have power in remote areas. For connectivity, the systems use Wi-Fi and built-in "mesh networking," a peer-to-peer concept that allows machines to share a single Internet connection.

For this reason, Bender said OLPC is working with partner schools to ensure that they have a server and Internet connection that can be the gateway for the mesh network.

Development of the initial laptops has been funded by Advanced Micro Devices, eBay, Google and Red Hat, among others.

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