Now a group of MIT students look to add to OLPC's woes by offering up a functional
computer at a far lower price -- around $15 to $20 USD. American graduate
student Derek Lomas was inspired on how to design the device when he came across a
"TV" computer selling for $12 USD in India. The computer
was nothing more than a clone/rip-off of the original Nintendo Entertainment
System (NES), with more functionality added. The device was so similar it
accepted NES cartridges.
The computer features the same technology as the NES -- a muscular 1.78-MHz
8-bit processor, a gargantuan 2k of video memory and the ability to display
256-by-240 pixels in 25 colors. Originally launching in 1985 in the U.S.,
the console went on to sell 62 million units worldwide, and was a runaway
success that remained a culture icon into the 1990s. Its games still sell
through the Nintendo
Wii's Virtual Console legacy system.
The popularity led to many knockoff models, such as the Victor-70 that Mr.
Lomas encountered. Many of these models were unlicensed machines
manufactured in China. Mr. Lomas states, "A lot of the Srishti
Design students who saw me playing with this used to have one themselves,
several years ago. Back then, this cost nearly 3,000 rupees [$75 U.S.]."
Unlike the NES, though, all the hardware including the memory, processor and
cartridge case are not contained in a plastic housing, but rather inside a
large keyboard. Game controllers and a mouse can also attach to the
keyboard, which plugs directly into the television. Online retailers in
India sell the Victor-70 for a slightly higher price of $23.99. The
product may actually be legal as in the U.S. patents expire after 20
One potential benefit of a modified Victor-70 is it would feature the Basic
programming language, to make programming easy for new users. At the
Development Design Summit held at MIT yearly, Mr. Lomas plans on presenting his
findings. He and a group of other international graduate students and
designers hope to transform the Victor-70 into a modern computer. They are
confident they can add internet access and other perks while keeping the price
Another alternative to the Victor-70 is a laptop Mr. Lomas encountered in
Indian markets which retails for $15 USD, and comes with a blank and white LCD
Whichever the team chooses, if they are able to keep costs beneath $20, they
may have a hit on their hands. Despite the lower capabilities and the
inability to use a modern OS, you could buy 9-10 units of their device for the
cost of one OLPC, given these prices. The OLPC may be more powerful, but
the MIT team's computer may prove more practical.
The OLPC project was actually founded at MIT, in a slight irony of history.