OLPC Pledges Support To Indian £23 Laptop Scheme

OLPC wants to help roll out cheap laptops in India, but previous disagreements with India authorities may mean the pledge falls on deaf ears

The head of One Laptop Per Child, Nicholas Negroponte, has said that he is happy to share his organisation’s technology with the backers of the newly developed project in India, which has developed a laptop costing just £23 ($35).

In an open letter published late last week, Negroponte said that he was happy to collaborate with the makers of the Indian device, despite the fact it competes with the technology developed by his own organisation. “Please consider this open letter OLPC’s pledge to provide India with free and open access to all of our technology, and our experience with 2 million laptops, in over 40 countries, in over 25 languages,” wrote Negroponte. “As a humanitarian and charitable organisation, we do not compete. We collaborate, and invite you to do so, too.”

Difficult History In India

Nicholas Negroponte
Nicholas Negroponte

The Indian government unveiled a prototype of the iPad-like touch-screen laptop late in July. The device, which is expected to go into production next year, apparently costs around $35 (£23), compared to OLPC’s $100 laptop.

But despite the tone of contrition in its open letter, Negroponte and the OLPC organisation have a difficult history with Indian authorities – with some commentators pointing to the development of the $35 machine as a pointed riposte by the Indian government to the OLPC project. On unveiling the $35 machine, India’s Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal admitted it was India’s answer to the OLPC project. “The solutions for tomorrow will emerge from India,” Sibal said, according to reports from news agency AFP.

The difficult relationship between Negroponte and Indian authorities can be traced back to the MIT Media Lab Asia he was involved in setting up in the country. The lab involved received large amounts of funding from the Indian government but subsequently folded. According to reports from ZDNet UK, this saw Negroponte labellled as “persona non grata” in the country.

When OLPC approached the Indian government to buy into the OLPC project in 2006, the government rejected the scheme in no uncertain terms. India’s education secretary Sudeep Banerjee said at the time that the project was “pedagogically suspect” and the money would be better spent on books and other resources “than fancy tools”.

While some Indian states have backed the OLPC scheme, the central government continues to criticise the project, reports claim.

Refurbished PCs To Africa

In other tech development news, Computer Aid announced this week that Cranfield University has become the latest organisation to donate computer equipment to the IT charity which refurbishes PCs from UK businesses and sends them to the developing world. Around 1200 PCs from the University are being sent to e-learning and community projects in Tanzania, Chile, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Gio Lusignani, director of IT at Cranfield University, said the organisation was keen to avoid seeing its equipment end up in the waste-stream. “We were aware of the issues around illegal e-waste and wanted to ensure Cranfield University worked with a legitimate and responsible disposal partner,” he said. “Computer Aid could ensure that any working equipment was re-used rather than recycled and we knew none of our equipment would end up on a scrap heap.”

In July, business secretary Vince Cable announced that the industry and government body charged with overseeing the introduction of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive has been disbanded.