Progress: Discover the origins of OLPC


The origins of OLPC stretch back more than four decades to the primordial days of computing, when most machines were still the size of small dinosaurs and next to no one imagined they had any connection to children. Pioneer thinkers such as Seymour Papert dreamed they would be suitable for children, and time has proved the immense power of the personal computer as a learning tool. Some of the key milestones in One Laptop per Child's long march from radical theory to reality...

  • 2007

    • December

      Children begin learning with the XO.

    • November

      Mass production begins

    • September

      Trial-3 software release

    • August

      C1 (preproduction) machines are deployed.

      The XO wins the Index Award.

      New Sugar features deployed.

      Ivan Krstić wins the TR35 award for BitFrost, the OLPC security architecture.

    • July

      Intel becomes a member.

      The final round of beta machines (B4) are built and deployed.

    • June

      OLPC Game Jam

    • May

      Autonomous mesh operates during suspend.

      First B3 machines are built and deployed.

      Peru announces it will participate in OLPC.

    • April

      First school server deployed.

    • March

      First mesh network deployed.

    • February

      B2-Test (Beta 2)machines deployed to children in launch countries.

    • January

      Rwanda starts out the New Year with a bang by announcing that it, too, will participate in OLPC.

  • 2006

    • December

      Uruguay commits to OLPC.

    • November

      875 B1-Test (Beta 1)machines roll off the Quanta assembly-line in Shanghai. XO is for real.

    • October

      Libya announces it has signed up for 1.2 million laptops, one for every school-age child in the nation.

      OLPC has an Arabic-speaking launch country.

    • September

      Red Hat and Pentagram present the user interface for the laptop. SES-Astra joins OLPC.

    • August

      First working prototype of the dual-mode display is unveiled.

    • July

      Wikipedia becomes first source of content for the laptop.

    • June

      500 developer boards are shipped worldwide. Csound is demonstrated over the mesh network.

    • May

      eBay becomes a member. $100 School Server is announced.

    • April

      Squid Labs and FreePlay present first human-powered systems for the laptop.

    • March

      OLPC opens its offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Noted industrial designer Yves Behar takes charge of form-factor issues.

    • February

      Marvell joins OLPC and partners on network hardware for the laptop. The OLPC website goes live (domain courtesy of Mohamed Rostom).

    • January

      Negroponte and Kemal Dervis, head of the UN Development Program (UNDP), sign a memo of understanding at the World Economic Forum. The planned OLPC Gen-1 launch remains focused on 5–10 million laptops in large countries or regions. Over time, UNDP will serve as OLPC's ground force in many of the 166 countries in which it has offices, assisting with everything from communications with ministries to logistics for school rollout.

  • 2005

    • December

      OLPC announces that Quanta Computers, the world's largest maker of laptops, will become the ODM for the laptop. Nortel becomes a member.

    • November

      At the World Symposium on the Information Society in Tunis, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan presents OLPC's latest iteration, the so-called green machine, with its distinctive pencil-yellow hand crank. At a jammed press conference with Negroponte, Annan breaks the handle. Time for a design review.

      “This is not just a matter of giving a laptop to each child, as if bestowing on them some magical charm. The magic lies within—within each child, within each scientist—, scholar—, or just-plain-citizen-in-the-making. This initiative is meant to bring it forth into the light of day.”—Kofi Annan

      Two weeks later, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria declares himself “enchanted” by the $100 laptop and commits his country to one million units.

    • August

      After meeting in Bangkok with Negroponte, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announces that Thailand will adopt OLPC, the first country officially to do so. Unfortunately for Shinawatra, he would later be deposed by a military coup in September 2006.

    • July

      Negroponte reports to a partners' meeting at Google headquarters that more than 50 countries have now inquired about the laptop. Twenty of the queries came from heads of state. Brightstar is introduced as a partner.

      Design Continuum becomes OLPC's industrial-design partner.

    • June

      Brazilian President Lula da Silva meets with Negroponte and Papert in Brasilia, where he embraces the $100 laptop for Brazil. So that Brazil can move forward, President Silva gives his cabinet officers just 29 days to set an agenda, he says, because “anything longer than 30 days is uninteresting.”

    • May

      First meeting of corporate partners at the Media Lab. Members include AMD, News Corp., Google, and Red Hat, which will create a Linux-based operating system for the laptop.

    • January

      Negroponte sketches out his idea for a $100 laptop for the poor children of the world in an e-mail to his old friend, Hector Ruiz, CEO of AMD. Six hours later, Ruiz replies: “Count us in, and we would be delighted to take a lead role here.” Within weeks, News Corp. and Google also join as founding members of the newly formed program, One Laptop per Child.

      Later in the month, Negroponte presents the idea for the $100 laptop at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the political, economic, and cultural elite of the world gather each year. Although he has nothing to show his audience but a simple mock-up with no functioning parts, the machine makes a big splash. John Markoff writing for The New York Times, calls Negroponte “the Johnny Appleseed of the digital era.”

  • 2002

    • September

      Governor Angus King of the state of Maine is persuaded by Papert that “one-to-one is the only meaningful ratio for deploying computers to school children,” and launches the first large-scale, saturation distribution 42,000 of laptops—to all of the state's seventh-graders. The program is later renewed and expanded.

      “Giving all the children this powerful device, this key, is a very powerful transformative idea,” says King.

    • April

      Negroponte provides 20 children in a small, remote Cambodian village with connected laptops; for their individual use at school, at home, and in the community. He will add 20 more the following year. The children and their families quickly innovate multiple uses for the machines and easily teach themselves to navigate the Internet. Their first English word? “Google.”

  • 1998

    • Lego debuts its Mindstorms™ as a product with which children build “programmable bricks” into their constructions.

  • 1995

    • In his influential Being Digital, Negroponte paints a picture of the future of personal computing. The book becomes an international best-seller and is translated into 40 languages.

  • 1988

    • Working with the Omar Dengo Foundation in Costa Rica, Papert and a team from the Media Lab help design and implement a constructionist program that includes the training of a dozen Costa Rican teachers at MIT. The self-sustaining program is instrumental in moving Costa Rica away from economic dependence on agricultural exports toward a technology-based economy.

      “Logo became a culture, a way of rethinking learning.”

      LEGO/Logo launches as a commercial product with which kids connect their robotic constructions to a personal computer with a cable.

  • 1985

    • The MIT Media Lab opens its doors. Its mission, in part, is to “invent and creatively exploit new media for human well-being without regard for present-day constraints.”

      Papert opens “The School of the Future,” a multi-year, high-density computer project at The Hennigan Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts. The children work primarily with Logo. Hennigan will also become a pilot test site for the Media Lab's LEGO/Logo project.

  • 1982

    • In a French government-sponsored pilot project, Papert and Negroponte distribute Apple II microcomputers to school children in a suburb of Dakar, Senegal. The experience confirms one of Papert's central assumptions: children in remote, rural, and poor regions of the world take to computers as easily and naturally as children anywhere. These results will be validated in subsequent deployments in several countries, including Pakistan, Thailand, and Colombia.

  • 1980

  • 1968

    • Alan Kay describes his proto-laptop, the Dynabook, as “a portable interactive personal computer, as accessible as a book.”

  • 1967

    • Wally Feurzeig, Daniel Bobrow, Richard Grant, Cynthia Solomon, and Seymour Papert introduce Logo, the first programming language written especially for children.

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