OLPC aims for mass production in third quarter

One Laptop Per Child hopes to begin mass production of low-cost laptops aimed at children in developing countries in August or September.

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One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) hopes to begin mass production of low-cost laptops aimed at children in developing countries in August or September.

In late 2005, when the not-for-profit organisation released a prototype of the machine, it aimed for mass production towards the end of 2006.

OLPC plans to conclude its third build of the laptop, finalising any last-minute engineering tweaks, by early April, Christopher Blizzard, software team lead for OLPC at Red Hat, said in an interview.

The laptop is currently in the first build phase, with the second build phase due to commence in late January. The laptops are being manufactured for OLPC by Taiwanese company Quanta Computer.

So far, OLPC has released a few hundred laptops to governments around the world, with plans to increase these into the low thousands over the next few months, Blizzard said.

Last year saw some wavering among countries that had previously committed to purchasing the OLPC machines for their schoolchildren, notably India and Thailand.

The countries whose governments have currently committed to buying laptops for their schoolchildren are Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Thailand and Uruguay, Blizzard confirmed.

China, India and Egypt are now off the list. OLPC has decided to concentrate on gaining experience in other countries before tackling the huge nations China and India, which it may look to enter at the provincial or state level, he said.

Blizzard did not give a reason why Egypt is apparently no longer involved in the project. OLPC is continuing discussions with other Middle Eastern and African countries about signing up for the project.

OLPC is now firmly focusing all its efforts on developing nations and has no plans to offer laptops to any developed countries. In late 2005, it looked as though the US state of Massachusetts might also commit to the project, but this is no longer on the cards.

"This is a humanitarian effort," Blizzard said. The hope is that equipping children with their own laptops will help significantly improve the level of education in developing countries and encourage children to learn outside school as well as in the classroom.

While OLPC had hoped the laptops would cost £50 ($100) apiece, the cost is currently around the £75 ($150) mark. The organisation is hoping that the price of the machine will fall dramatically as production ramps up into the millions in 2008.

As the laptop has moved from prototype to finished machine, it has appeared in a variety of hues: orange, yellow, blue and the current green. The colour changes were more about differentiating between different design phases than anything else, Blizzard said.

Ultimately, it would be up to the purchasing nations to determine what colour they would like their laptop consignment to be, he added. The main issue is to make the laptops as distinctive as possible to lessen the possibility of them being stolen or resold.

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