We bloggers are so tied to our laptops that we often times take them, and our constant connection to a never ending flow of information, for granted. We write and read about some amazing eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious design initiatives. But often times the socially-focused projects have the most potential to incite change, like Fuseproject’s XO computer designed for the One Laptop Per Child program, which provides not only an ingeniously designed piece of technology, but a plan to deliver said technology to an otherwise technologically underprivileged demographic. The cleverly-designed, fully-loaded XO laptop will be delivered in mass quantities to developing countries for about $130 each, giving thousands of children access to the web and other educational applications. This past July, Nigeria placed the first hefty order of one million units. And just last month, XO was honored with Popular Science magazine’s “Best of What’s New” Award.

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One Laptop per Child, Fuseproject, Fuse Project, social development, computers for underprivileged children photos courtesy of FuseProject

In development for over a year now, the One Laptop Per Child design and program has come a long way. The initiative began as a non-profit organization, spearheaded by Nicholas Negroponte of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has received sponsorship and support from many parties including the United Nations Development Programme and technical support from Google, Skype, and Linux RedHat.

After multiple rounds of prototyping, the designers at FuseProject have produced a compact, highly-functional, and engaging final product. The device boasts a slew of streamlined features, from its Wi-Fi antenna “rabbit ears” and energy-efficient LCD to the digital writing tablet and integrated video camera. Networking capabilities allow children to connect to each other, their school, their teacher, and the Web. And if that weren’t enough, the machine runs off of power from a variety of sources- from rechargeable batteries to hand cranks, and eventually solar energy. When closed, the laptop features an integrated handle and is completely protected from dust and dirt, allowing each student to transport their laptop to and from school. Aesthetically, the XO is simple yet kid-friendly, engaging, tactile, and even anthropomorphic.

Despite the forward-thinking design, the laptop and OLPC program has received some criticism surrounding a variety of issues. Questions raised include skepticism as to how the machines will actually be used in classrooms, doubts about the efficacy of the software and technical configurations, worries that the program will vastly increase the amount of material waste in the developing world, and if the laptop itself could be “greener.” Others wonder if a laptop is the appropriate device to bridge the digital divide, and worry it may follow in the footsteps of the somewhat disappointing Simputer.

At the end of the day, and amidst the constant debates, we think the One Laptop Per Child program is a wonderful thing, and a brave step in the right direction. At the risk of sounding overly-idealistic, the continued, if controversial, discussion should be encouraging, proving that we’re committed to doing things better and finding efficient ways of delivering resources to those who need them. Congratulations to FuseProject on an ingenious design for a global problem. As for the actual implementation, only time will tell how effective and influential the program will prove to be. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts…

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