Flutterby™! : Do I Hear $5.00?

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Do I Hear $5.00?

2007-05-04 14:27:26.297884+00 by petronius 7 comments

Via Slashdot: India has decided to avoid Nick Negroponte's famous $100 laptop computer. Instead they are working on an entirely home-built $10.00(US) laptop! No detailed specs yet, but they claim to have gotten the price down to $47.00 already.

The Slashdot crowd is skeptical, and so am I; it doesn't seem likely that they could get a meaningful machine for that price, even if they used MS-DOS and punch-card input. It will be interesting to see if this is real, or just a newly attentuated form of vaporware (areogelware?)

[ related topics: Hardware Hackery Work, productivity and environment Cool Technology ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-04 14:39:21.274486+00 by: Dan Lyke

Think about the old Tandy/Radio Shack Model 100... 40x8 screen, fairly limited memory. You could definitely build something like that with an SD Card jack for the $10 range, and have a gig for document storage for another $10.

The cost is the display and the batteries.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-04 18:34:54.714612+00 by: petronius

You are right, but then you're talking about a calculator with some text capability. Would it produce output that could talk to the rest of the world? I wonder if the answer to Indian computing is buying up all those old computers we;ve been throwing away in the States, wiping them clean, and installing some simplified OS and aps and some solar cells. I envision villages in the Punjab keeping old Dells running like Cubans keep 1956 Pontiacs running: a bit of spit and duct tape, but able to tap into the web.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-04 19:47:41.592727+00 by: Dan Lyke

A web browser might be asking a little much of a 40x8 display, but if you could get graphics on it, either monochrome or color, you have web browsing, and you have the ability to create content.

I believe that the big problem with discarded computers from this side of the world is that, while CRTs are cheap, they depend on large amounts of relatively stable power. What you want for an endeavor like this is a device large enough to have a real keyboard, but power efficient enough that you can run it off of two electrodes stuck in a potato.

I think. While I understand the desire for a cheap computing and communications platform, the second part of that seems to be the critical thing to raise this above handing out GameBoys to everybody. And communications is as much a political problem as it is a technical one.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-04 20:59:07.48682+00 by: ebradway

The old-machine route quickly becomes much more expensive when you are talking about scales of millions of machines all with different configurations. If you could, say, a million old Dells exactly the same model so parts are easily interchanged, then you could do it.

Evidently the OLPC is made up of parts that can be easily disassembled, swapped, and reassembled.

And the Tandy Model 100 is exactly it. The original Model 100 was an exercise in minimalism. It ran on AAs. It had a built-in modem. All applications were on ROM. It could word-process, calculate (spreadsheet), and terminal-emulate.

The CPUs used in cell-phones are now able to run Java apps, drive a fairly high resolution screen, and manage a communication stack while giving a couple day's operation on a single charge. These processors are cheap enough that they are essentially given away.

So take the cell-phone CPU and interface it with a larger display. Maybe capable of 640x480 or 800x600. Run a paired-down flavor of Linux on it. Make the screen detachable. Make the battery pack detachable. Etc. Etc. Make it solid-state and emphasize connection over disconnection.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-04 22:05:42.365359+00 by: Dan Lyke

How much does that Jeri Ellsworth designed Commodore-64-in-a-joystick cost to make? Probably pennies, and you can run a web browser on a C64.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-05 21:51:54.78877+00 by: jeff [edit history]

My first computer (circa 1982) was a Timex-Sinclar ZX-80 with 1K of RAM and a b/w NTSC output. The memory allowed about 60 tokenized lines of Tiny Basic to be written. I ended up selling it about a year later to a Chinese research scientist while I was a student at the University of Arizona.

My second computer (circa 1984) was the venerable Commodore-64 with a whopping 64K of RAM. I had a lot of fun with that little machine, writing games and eventually doing all of the data acquisition and graphics primitives (bar charts, strip charts, control rod animations) in 6510 assembly language for the University of Cincinnati's nuclear reactor simulator. One of the best bargain computers of all-time, IMHO.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-05-06 01:20:38.686613+00 by: markd

I was spoiled with a 48K Apple ][ right off the bat. (ooh! 16K expansion card to go to 64K. oooh! two floppy drives) I think I had more pure unadulterated *fun* on that machine than I have had on anything else since then. Maybe it's because it was the first machine I ever used. Or maybe I'm just older now and doing this stuff for my living.