When Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Lab, first dreamed up the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project in 2006, he wanted to provide the developing world with the same technology accessible to so many of us.
He enlisted Swiss-born San Franciscan Yves Behar of Fuseproject to help bring his vision to life: a durable, low-power, Internet-connected laptop that would give children everywhere access to information that would help empower them and their communities.
Six years later, the OLPC unit -- called the XO Laptop -- is used by more than 2.4 million children around the world.
CNET spoke with Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, the exhibition curator (and SFMOMA acting department head/assistant curator of architecture and design) about the inception of the exhibit and the parallels between Behar's design and Fuller's philosophies.
“I included the One Laptop Per Child project in the exhibition because I felt that Nicholas Negroponte, who founded the program, might have been responding to Fuller’s comment that if only everyone had the same access to information, all of the world’s critical social issues could be resolved," she said. "Now that there is more access to real-time information, there isn’t a noticeable change working collectively for humanity’s betterment."
Accessories initially envisioned, and sketched in the book, include plastic hand cranks, solar Wi-Fi repeaters, and yo-yo cranks to provide a source of power, which is frequently lacking in rural, developing communities.
The project considers what might happen if access to information is given to children who’ve barely had access to education. Behar’s participation in this project was critical because one can’t just introduce any laptop into such a condition. He had to design a very specific tool for a particular usage that would translate in any language.
"This proposal sees design as part of the solution in effecting greater change," says Fletcher.
Behar's design book incorporates ideas for a rugged, compact design, a splash-proof keyboard, and drop-proof hardware.
Behar has a very interesting partnership with many of his clients. As an investor, he is more involved in the long-term effect of any design he produces. It allows him more time to develop a product, and then release it to the public when he and the company feel it is the right moment.
On the right is the realization of the first generation OLPC hardware, the XO Laptop, and on the left is one of the hand-cranked chargers.
The largest OLPC deployment thus far is in Peru, where there are more than 900,000 units. The first deployments typically target areas suffering from the highest rates of poverty, illiteracy, and social exclusion.
The Afghani XO model, deployed in 2009, is used by more than 4 million school children in Afghanistan and uses only about 25 percent of the power usage of a regular laptop. Due to the lack of connectivity in rural areas, a foot pedal was developed that can fully power the laptop while it is in use.