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Wind-Up Computers Set for Third World Children

Children in the developing world are to receive the first of millions of cheap wind-up computers in a U.N.-backed project to bring information technology to communities with no electricity.

Later this month the first batches of the laptop, called the XO, will be delivered free to children in seven countries, including Rwanda, Nigeria and Libya.

The machines will be funded out of the recipient countries’ budgets at $150 per machine in annual installments of $20-$30, though it is hoped the price will soon fall to $100.

The computers, which have internet access built in, will usea wind-up crank, a pedal or a lawn-mower-style ripcord to generate power. Even cheap conventional laptops costing would not be suitable for remote parts of the developing world.

They follow the success of the wind-up radio designed by Trevor Baylis, the British inventor, for communities where electricity and batteries are hard to obtain. It is now used by millions of Africans.

The nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) foundation is the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s media lab, who believes access to technology is key to improving education and accelerating development in the Third World.

Deliveries are to begin after years spent trying to win governments’ agreement to fund it.

But there are concerns that, despite the machines’ security features, some families may simply sell them and that others may disappear through corruption.

Other countries taking part in the scheme are Brazil, Uruguay, Thailand and Argentina, meaning seven nations are committed to buying at least one million computers each.

The machine is built of heavy duty plastic and has antennas to communicate with nearby laptops. Full internet access is likely to come from generator-powered mini-base stations, perhaps in a village school.

The XO’s software should allow it to “piggy-back” on the nearest web-linked machine.