Former OLPC CTO aims to create US$75 laptop

A laptop under US$100 could reach desks if a new venture formed by former chief technology officer of One Laptop Per Child, Mary Lou Jepsen, can deliver on its promises.

A “spin-out” from OLPC, the company, Pixel Qi, is looking to create a US$75 laptop and trying to advance low-cost computers and power-efficient laptops, mobile phones and other consumer electronics that are sunlight readable, Jepsen wrote on the company’s Web site.

Jepsen left OLPC two weeks ago to commercialize technologies she invented with OLPC, she said in an e-mail to the IDG News Service at the time. A patent lists Jepsen as one of the inventors of a display system optimized for low-power operation.

“Spinning out from OLPC enables the development of a new machine, beyond the XO [laptop], while leveraging a larger market for new technologies,” Jepsen wrote.

There is a big commercial market for technology spawned by OLPC, Jepsen wrote. Prices for next-generation hardware can be brought down by allowing multiple uses of key technology advances, she wrote.

The company will continue to work with OLPC by providing products at cost, and it will sell devices at a profit to commercial organizations.

A similar promise to introduce a low-cost laptop came from OLPC, when it launched the US$100 XO laptop in 2005. Since then, the effort has been afflicted by production delays and rising costs, which caused the laptop’s estimated price to rise to US$200. It is now beset by waning orders and competition from commercial vendors that threaten to sideline the nonprofit effort.

As CTO, Jepsen was responsible for hardware development for the rugged and power-saving XO laptop, designed for use by children in developing countries. Though the laptop has struggled to find buyers, it has been praised for its environmentally friendly design and innovative display, hardware and networking features.

Her departure from OLPC spawned a debate, with critics charging that Jepsen was taking advantage of OLPC’s nonprofit inventions for personal gains, but supporters shot back, saying it was the right time for her to leave a sinking ship.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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