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The original NES sold 62 million units.  (Source: Nintendo)

One of the $12 "TV computers" -- basically an NES clone -- plugged into graduate student Derek Lomas' TV. He plans to use the design to create an internet-ready OLPC competitor.  (Source: Derek Lomas)

An Indian retailer proudly displays the NES knockoff.  (Source: Derek Lomas )
Students are convinced they can beat the OLPC product with a modified version of the original Nintendo console that is internet ready

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has yielded a mix of success and failure.  On the positive side, it has managed to put together a relatively low cost, fully functional laptop; the XO.  On the downside many features were left out, including the sometimes criticized, sometimes praised idea of crank power generation.  Also on the not-so-good front, the laptop, which was supposed to be a $100 laptop, ballooned to a cost of $188.  Other bad news came when chipmaker Intel pulled out of the project, launching a potential competitor -- a second generation Classmate notebook.

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 years. 

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 low.

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 screen.

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.



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RE: Misguided?
By mcmilljb on 8/8/2008 5:10:25 PM , Rating: 5
Give them a school, and they can learn whatever they want there! Students should have a computer lab at their school, it's more cost effective this way. We don't have the best tools to make computer learning effective, so it should only be used as an extra tool in the classroom. Doing math problems on paper is more effective than just plugging into the calculator on the computer. They need more teachers like everyone else, so they can provide more individualized attention to students.

more better teachers >>>>>>> cheap laptops


RE: Misguided?
By mino on 8/9/2008 12:59:42 PM , Rating: 1
Do You realize that the OLPC, in essence, is an EXTREMELY CHEAP alternative to good teachers ?

Given the current political situation (especially in Africa), it is more-less impossible to build and fund a good educational system in those countries.

If corectly executed, PC can give them the knowledge and hope they learn it up themselves.
... for maybe 1/100 the price of building a system to teache them the same knowledge...

You have to think outside the box to get the point of this kind of projects.


RE: Misguided?
By freaqie on 8/11/2008 5:24:34 AM , Rating: 4
Do You realize that the OLPC, in essence, is an EXTREMELY CHEAP alternative to good teachers ?

not with 3 world wages they aren't

teachers are better in every way.
and if we spend money on these country's
why not do it on something like,

giving them better agricultural machinery.

or techniques so they can fight locust swarms or droughts.

something they actually benefit from.


RE: Misguided?
By johnadams on 8/11/2008 11:24:08 AM , Rating: 2
Not to mention the miriad of things a real-life teacher can teach that a dead junk OLPC simply can't; Discipline, empathy, kindness, wisdom, honor, respect, etc... No, "Video Classroom" software does not teach the above as effective as a real human being. And c'mon they're just kids, keep it real y'all.

Also, even at USD 30, OLPCs still cost an arm to some 3rd world countries. Dump site scavengers in parts of Africa earn less than USD 1 for a full day's work and they often return home with nothing! Divide USD 1 with the average number of children in the household. Get the picture?

The powers that be should be giving that OLPC junk away for free, and package it nicely in a hamper full of food, daily necessities, and clothes.

Come to think of it, I don't even think they'd be able to power those OLPC laptops since infrastructure is so bad in some areas. I'm sure some day some "non-profit" organization would ask donors to buy an OLPC for children in Africa, keep 50% of the money as "administrative costs", and deliver OLPC bricks to most of the villages with no electricity. Then, they pick one or two villagers who are clueless as to what is going on, put them in a posh crib, bribe them with Snicker bars and get them to smile on camera showing a thumb up whilst holding an OLPC.


"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer














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