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CTO Of $100 Laptop Project Calls For Low-Cost Displays

The key to the project's success is a $35 flat-panel display that will draw much less power, Mary Lou Jepsen says.
SAN FRANCISCO — "One laptop per child" organization chief technology officer Mary Lou Jepsen challenged attendees at the Society for Information Display Symposium Monday (June 5) to develop a low-cost display to facilitate placing a $100 laptop in every child's hands.

Jepsen, a pioneer in developing display technologies at Intel and MicroDisplay which she co-founded, said the key is to develop a $35 flat panel display that will draw much less power.

"Today's laptop consumes 20 watts. Our goal is to develop a laptop that consumes 2 watts," said Jepsen.

What's more, the portable needs to be more powerful than the average $2000 portable whose architecture "has not changed much in the last 15 years," according to Jepsen. She recalls that unlike with the original PC architecture where more processing power in the central processing unit was consumed with ever increasing software features, the proposed laptop is Linux-based and thereby made more efficient.

The portable's display has to be read in sunlight because "half the world's children live without electricity" who will have to crank the portable for some six minutes in order to be able to get an hour's worth of work out of it. To minimize the power used by the display, a dual-mode display—a 640 x 480 color, transmissive one and an 1110 x 830 black and white reflective-is used.

Instead of more expensive LVDS drivers used in today's flat-panel displays more common TTL drivers are being applied. "One of the cost elements in the display that can be minimized are the color filters," said Jepsen. "By minimizing the need for such filters we are able to keep the costs down." As Jepsen was addressing the display community here, online reports talked about MIT Media Lab guru behind OLPC Nicholas Negroponte addressing a Linux provider RedHat gathering that by 2010 the price will drop to $50 per computer.

Four countries—Brazil, Thailand, Argentina and Nigeria— have already committed to buying and distributing 1 million of the PCs next year, and three others— China, India and Egypt—are close, Negroponte reported earlier last year.

Progress in all aspects of the $100 laptop is being kept on the non-profit organization's website.

The timeline calls for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)— created by faculty members of the MIT Media Lab— to design, manufacture, and distribute the laptops to third world countries thru their education ministries under a United Nations development program.

Processor vendor AMD, Linux provider RedHat, wireless developer Marvell, materials company 3M, Taiwan display partner Chi Mei PC maker Quanta Computers, and standards tester Underwriter Laboratories are all involved in making OLPC a reality.

"We need to build out 50 to 100 million units in 2008", said Jepsen.

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