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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

$100 Laptop Unveiled by Matt McGann '00


I just took a break from reading to watch some of the webcast of World Summit on the Information Society, where UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (MIT SM ’72) and MIT Media Lab Chairman Nicholas Negroponte ’66 unveiled the first working prototype of the $100 Laptop. [news story]

This is one of the most inspirational projects I’ve ever seen. It makes me so proud to be at MIT.

According to the project website, the “machine will be a Linux-based, full-color, full-screen laptop that will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data. This rugged laptop will be WiFi-enabled and have USB ports galore. Its current specifications are: 500MHz, 1GB, 1 Megapixel.”

The plan is to initially roll out the computers in a little over a year to six large nations. Negroponte has identified China, Thailand, Brazil, Egypt, and possibly Nigeria and Argentina as those first nations. Each country would agree to buy at least 1,000,000 machines. Later, other countries would be added.

Today’s press conference included enthusiastic representatives from many nations, as well as a healthy number of skeptics. People peppered Negroponte with questions in both English and French, and he fielded both with ease.

Negroponte was later joined by Alan Kay, known as the inventor (!) of laptops (back in the late 1960s) and a partner in the project. He started answering one question with something like, “Back when a bunch of us were inventing the Internet…” He went on to describe the Internet as the greatest open-source gift to the world. This was one cool press conference.

I should note that the MIT Media Lab, the sponsor of this project, is the largest employer of UROP students on campus, so you can also be involved in incredible projects like this.

23 responses to “$100 Laptop Unveiled”

  1. Shikhar says:

    hi Matt,

    Well I have been keeping track of that news as well. I feel the next on their list will be countries from south Asia and the sub-continent.

    I just wonder why such a computing aid never came out.. I mean the poosibilities in the education sector are so huge. The laptop has pretty much everything required by a high school student for school purposes.

  2. Heck yeah. Not only does it make computing more accessible, it give the users the flexibility they need. I heard they’re coming out with a $200 version for commercial sale — It’s probably worth it for the sake of having not only a handcrank computer (infinite battery life!) but also supporting their cause.

  3. Alexander says:

    Uh. Hello? Al Gore invented the internet.

  4. Matt Bayer says:

    Great invention these computers are. I came across this project in an issue of Discover magazine i was reading. MIT really does do wonderful things for the world

  5. Alexander, settle down. That’s a myth, and untrue. He said he took the initiative in creating the internet, which is true, because he helped get funding for it. If memory serves, DARPA created ARPANET and CERN created HTTP (or was it HTML, a subset of SGML?) for webpages to be served on.

    …perhaps my sarcasm detector failed, but eh — The More You Know. Wikipedia should have plenty of info on the creation of the internet.

  6. Robb Carr says:

    Christina, I think this is a slight technicality…but it depends on the size of the stone, if we had thrown say a pebble and had created capillary waves then the restoring force is the intermolecular forces/surface tension (Not diffrentiating between the two just making clear the interchangibility in this case). On the other hand if we had say a land slide into a perfectly flat body of water we are creating rather large waves which are pulled down by gravity, which is the restoring force in this case.

  7. Robb Carr says:

    I have been following this story for…a month now? it is really neat. It had the “Wow, what amazing things go on there I wish I could be involved” effect (to paraphrase). Andy, Alexander was probably joking, that tends to be a bit of a running joke. You have it more or less right, Tim Berners-Lee began working on HTML in 1989-1990 at CERN, HTTP was developed along with it. Annnd…they began to make it public in 1991.

  8. christina says:

    sorry to steal a thread i am a junior student i am confused over a question i hope i will be able to get a reply from some one here cause MIT guys are so good so this question goes to you all , specially Shikar from INDIA he seems to be having done a lot of researches and olmpiyads my tutor said a mechanical wave can be compared to a spring as there is a resoring force can anyone say what is the restoring force of the wave created when a stone is thrown in water



  9. saz says:

    i have a funny story: about 2 months or so ago, I was in an elevator and this guy was talking to his friend about these $100 laptops which MIT is working on. I smiled to myself and thought, what a joke, he must be trying to fool the other guy.

    three days later, i read about the project in the tech. i smiled again and thought, man, you’re in mit – anything is possible!!

  10. hahaha, i remember reading about this several months ago. It really interested me at the time. :D so much fun!

  11. Leon Liu says:

    This project and the OCW to me distinguish MIT from other universities in that it shows MIT to be not just interested in researching and developing new technologies, but also involved in actively propagating the knowledge and the technologies so that many people around the world, almost regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, are able to have access to high-tech learning. This can potentially create populations of highly educated people in developing countries and stimulate these countries’ development. From one perspective, I think this strategy of fostering tech and education can possibly turn out to be more effective in promoting development in poor countries than giving direct monetary aids. Personally I would definitely want to be a part of this since it would give me the chance to make a contribution to a globally influencial project as early as an undergrad.

  12. Christina,

    I think that when a stone is thrown into a pool of water, the water molecules oscillate up and down. Hence, the restoring force should be provided by hydrostatic pressure (and gravity, to some extent) acting on each molecule of water. Otherwise, it should be the intermolecular forces of attraction – hydrogen bonding, perhaps?

  13. Saad Zaheer says:

    Hey Leon,

    the demo was really helpful for me, I am taking a course on waves and vibrations here and I studied water waves like three weeks ago.. the animations are cool..

    as for the 100 dollar laptop.. well… MIT rocks!!

  14. Robb Carr says:

    No Ankit, you are completely correct. I just thought it was semi-important to note that for larger waves gravity becomes the restoring force, a quick google search gives me:

    9.1 discusses it.

  15. Anonymous says:

    how long do you need to crank it by hand to recharge the battery?

    it would be so cool if you could also charge it with some kind of “bicycle-pedal” option

  16. Hi Christina,

    I too am from India, and I am trying to provide an anwer to your question.

    Well, in case of the ripples in water, the restoring force is provided by surface tension. Let me explain. The water molecules below the top surface layer are surrounded on all sides by other water molecules. Therefore, the net attractive force on them is alomost zero. However, water molecules on the surface ar surrounded by other water molecules on 1 side and by air on the other. As a result, the net attractive force on them is non-zero and tangential to the surface. The chief property of surface tension is that it tries to minimize the surface area. So this provides the restoring force. This is my personal interpretation. Please correct me if I am wrong.


    I doubt govt. of India woul be willing to buy the laptops in such a large volume, especially since most of the economic policy has been hijacked by the Left.

    Signing off,


  17. Leon Liu says:

    Water waves are a little complicated. If you view the water molecules as merely oscillating up and down, and you might describe it like an oscillating spring that is positioned vertical to the ground.(thus gravity does provide the restoring force) But in reality, the water wave is a combination of longitudinal and transverse waves. Though the water molecules remain at the same place overall, they actually move in circles. At the crest the water molecules move in the direction of the water molecules wave like a longitudinal wave, but at the trough the water molecules move in the opposite direction. Thus there is no net displacement. As energy is transfered, the water molecules are compressed at the crests. To see it clearly for yourself, you can view an animation of water waves on this link:

  18. Anonymous says:

    What if a country who gets it has never experienced any type of technology before, will they not know what to do? or is there some kind of technical support available in countries like this?

  19. I think that that’s really interesting. I read the article in Discover Magazine some time back, but never thought to follow it up! I support it… but will there be any training of people? I mean, rural people may just end up selling it to other people because they don’t know what to do with it.

  20. Zack Yang says:

    I think it’s incredible that they managed to get the price down to 100 dollars. Negropont showed foresight when he made the laptop human-powered (given that in some areas, electricity is usually not available, or is available only sporadically).

    This post reminded me of the article (I forget from where) that ranked universities that contributed most to the U.S., and ranked MIT as #1 (though I suppose the $100 laptop would contribute more on a gloabl scale).

    After reading the full article, I thought the school-based distribution model was an excellent idea: it reduces the chance the laptops will be scrapped or sold, and encourages an educational use of the laptop.

  21. thekeri says:

    I’ve been reading practically everything I can about the $100 laptop for a couple of months now, and I have to admit that the whole thing’s beyond awesome. ^_^

  22. BT says:

    Well, I’m a bit late to that party, but anyone who says Al Gore invented the Internet is probably either sarcastic or Al Gore.

    Does this come only in green? I’d love to bring one to school (if a $200 commercial model really appeared)… I currently use a semi-cheap laptop as my notebook, although its monitor is kinda dying and it’s seeming more economical to get a new laptop instead of replacing the monitor (warranty reasons)… especially if it’s this cheap.

  23. Nazmul Huda says:

    100-Dollar Laptop: UN Secretary General