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Nicholas Negroponte: Send me your unused XO laptop and I'll send it to Haiti

TED spoke with Nicholas Negroponte in the days after the Haiti earthquake (and the day after the iPad was announced).

OLPC’s pilot Give One, Get One program is undergoing a radical transformation that could easily be called Give One, Give Again. In late January, an email went out to the OLPC community announcing that if any of their XO laptops were collecting dust in closets, they would reclaim them and send them to children in Haiti.

TED caught up with Nicholas Negroponte en route from Davos to Addis Ababa to talk about OLPC, rebuilding Haiti’s education system and the future of computers in schools.

TED: Is Haiti ready for an influx of OLPC laptops?

NN: Originally, the OLPC Foundation picked three charter countries to work with. Haiti was one of them. We already have fourteen or fifteen thousand laptops, a tech team and teaching group all ready in place, so we don’t have to tool up for it.

A giant fundraising program would be too slow. We’ve got this latent potential in unused machines. So instead of going for new ones that have to be manufactured, I said, let’s get the computers out of mothballs and into the hands of kids.

Even broken laptops are useful for spare parts.

TED: You raise an interesting point. When an OLPC laptop breaks, who fixes it? The developing world doesn’t exactly have a genius bar in every shopping district.

NN: Maintenance is addressed by the kids themselves. There are all sorts of maintenance manuals, and we encourage every kid to open up their laptops. A 12-year-old should be able to perform 95% of the repairs. The 5% that can’t be fixed are shipped back to us.

When we initially ship laptops to a town or school, for one reason or another 1% are dead on arrival, and that surplus 1% gets turned into spare parts.

TED: So many of the schools in Haiti have been destroyed, what good is OLPC?

NN: Even without schools, children can resume learning.

Nearly 100% of the schools in that region have been destroyed, and one of the things you can do is rethink school completely.

If we can send an OLPC to every kid in Haiti, that would completely change the face of education — and, potentially, we can do that in a matter of weeks or months. If we could do that before the end of the year, that would be really exciting, extraordinary. The only question that remains is how do we finance it.

The test has already happened in Uruguay. Every child in Uruguay has a laptop.

The program that just started is to get as many XOs as we can out of people’s closets and into kids’ hands immediately.

TED: Does it have to be the XO? There are a lot of alternatives on the market now. Netbooks …

NN: I don’t care what laptop they use, but if every child gets a computer it could change education.

TED: Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad yesterday. What are your impressions? Aren’t you working on a tablet OLPC? How would the two compare?

NN: The iPad will be a great product. It’s a nice way to read. More people will sleep with iPads than sleep with people, but it’s too heavy and too thick with too much bezel.

Our designs are thinner, with no bezel. The XO 3.0 is scheduled to come out in two years, and we want it to do a better job with haptic response, with force feedback. That will be really important for the future of tablet computing.

If you have an unused or broken XO laptop, send it to:

OLPC FOR HAITI c/o Exel
615 Westport Parkway #500
Grapevine, TX 76051