Innovation: The 100 Dollar Laptop

On Thursday, October 25, 2007 the 2nd Annual Chicagoland Innovation Summit was held in Chicago, IL.  The event was presented by Innovate NowMicrosoft was a sponsor and we had a large presence at the event, but Microsoft was not the only company at the event. the booth next to ours was manned by Wolfram Research, the creators of the Mathematica software.  Mathematica is very cool in and of itself, but I was most intrigued by the computing device they had on their display table.  This is the fourth article about some of the innovations that were showcased, the first article was on Photosynth and is located here, the second article was on Seadragon and is located here, and the third article was on Surface and is located here.


100 Dollar Laptop
Originally uploaded by jodieandlarry.

What is the 100 Dollar Laptop?

“The 100 Dollar Laptop” is a nickname that seems to be sticking to an initiative that is being spear headed by a not for profit organization called One laptop per child.  The goal of the organization is: “To provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves.”  There are lots of components to this goal, but one of the central components is to put into the hands of every child a computing device that they can use to foster education.  By every child they mean literally every child in every country on the face of the earth (clearly they are going to focus on developing countries).  In order to be successful, they figured that they would need to find a way to get the price of the device to around $100 USD and that is where the nickname comes from.

What challenges do they need to overcome?

There are several challenges to overcome with producing a laptop for $100 that can be used by every child.  It would be challenging enough to produce a $100 laptop for use in the United States, but imagine the challenges brought forth by delivering it in the 3rd world.  In the United States we take our power systems for granted, they are pretty much there 100% of the time (the occasional weather related outages aside).  In most 3rd world counties you do not get consistent power outside of the major cities and in the smallest villages there is no power at all.  They are designing this laptop so that it can be used without power (using a hand crank or foot pedal – the design is still not complete).

Another Challenge is the network connectivity.  They are envisioning a time when in each school there will be a network connection, but probably only one.  The laptops are being designed with a Mesh Network that will allow the individual laptops to connect with each other using their onboard antennas and if one laptop is connected to the Internet, all of the computers will be to share that connection (remember that the next time you complain about the slow network access at a hotel or coffee shop).  If there is no network connection, the computers in the mesh network will be able to share between each other.

This is not a “toy” computer

At first glance this looks like a toy that your would find at the toy store at your local mall.  It has a plastic shell and the keyboard and other items are accented with a bright green color that looks very playful.  Each of the choices that they have made in the device are a function of the design goals.  The device has to be rugged, lightweight and cheap to produce, so a molded plastic is probably the best choice given those constraints.  The device is also designed with a hinge that allows it to be folded for carrying and also allows it to work in a tablet style mode.

Will they make their goal?

The project is currently quite a ways off from reaching their goal of $100 per unit.  The current model (which actually goes on sale on November 12th, 2007) will cost about $200 to produce.  They are placing it for sale in the United States (and elsewhere), but they are asking people to buy 2 units for $399.  One of those units will be delivered to you and the other will be sent to a child in a third world country (and you get a $200 tax deduction).  I have no doubt that they will eventually be able to produce the unit for $100, it is simply a function of the price of the components continuing to drop and the fact that they will have economies of scale because they are going to produce millions of these devices.

Innovation: Surface


Touch the surface
Originally uploaded by jodieandlarry.

This Thursday (October 25, 2007) is the 2nd Annual Chicagoland Innovation Summit, presented by Innovate NowMicrosoft is a sponsor and will have a large presence at the event.  I will be on hand with several of my colleagues and we will be demonstrating some very forward looking technology.  In addition to our team, there are several other teams that will be demonstrating technology.   This is the third article about some of the innovations that will be showcased, the first article was on Photosynth and is located here and the second article was on Seadragon and is located here.

What is Surface?

Surface is a fundamental paradigm shift in the way that we can interact with computing platforms (and from saving you to have to leave the comment – yes they made a computer out of a big a$$ table).  The software that powers this will be very familiar to Microsoft developers because the User Interface is written in .NET and WPF.  There is a lot of cool technology under the covers that allows the user’s gestures to control the device.  If you want to know more about Surface, I would point you toward the write up that my colleague John Mullinax wrote up a few months ago (even though it was written in June, it still holds true today).


I actually got to see the surface in action today.  The feel of the device was quite different than I imagined, I quite frankly expected it to feel like the old table top arcade games from the 1980s.  It has a very cool feel to the top and it does not take long to get used to playing around with the device.  It will still be some time before you see the first devices appear with the customers they have announced as launch partners.  Hopefully the globe trotting surface team that I met today will have some more events where people can experience the surface first hand before the launch.

Innovation begets innovation

The coolest part about surface?  It has an SDK.  Microsoft and their customers have cooked up some pretty cool demos that show you the things they have thought of to do with the surface device.  But what will even be cooler is when the developer community gets a hold of the SDK and starts to create even more interesting applications for the platform.



Innovation: Seadragon


This Thursday (October 25, 2007) is the 2nd Annual Chicagoland Innovation Summit, presented by Innovate NowMicrosoft is a sponsor and will have a large presence at the event.  I will be on hand with several of my colleagues and we will be demonstrating some very forward looking technology that I feel is quite innovative.  I thought it would be interesting to give a “sneak peek” of some of the technologies that we will be showcasing at the event.   This is the second article, the first article was on Photosynth and is located here.

Disclaimer

This blog entry describes technology that is currently still in the labs environment.  Microsoft’s intent with this type of technology is to build it into shipping products or services that are delivered to you.  There are no timelines or product plans available at this time and there is always a chance that you may never see this technology in a shipping product.

What is Seadragon?

Seadragon is a technology that greatly enhances the viewing of images at different resolutions and different bandwidth speeds regardless of the capabilities of the device that it is being viewed on.  I have talked with several people in the past couple of years about the quandary we are in with our devices: some of our devices are getting bigger and some are getting smaller and we want high quality on the device regardless of its size.  I use the example of seeing a 12 Megapixel photo on a large widescreen HD TV versus seeing the same photo on your iPod or Zune.  The Seadragon technologies will help to address this quandary.

Want to see it in action?

Currently there is not a public preview of Seadragon that you can interact with on the web.  If you checked out the Photosynth preview, you have seen some of the Seadragon technology in action (it is part of the overall demonstration).  There is a great video that shows a Seadragon preview from the most recent TED conference embedded below (if you are reading this from a feed reader, you may need to open it in a browser).  We will be demoing a Seadragon client application at the Chicagoland Innovation Summit.






Innovation: Photosynth


This Thursday (October 25, 2007) is the 2nd Annual Chicagoland Innovation Summit, presented by Innovate NowMicrosoft is a sponsor and will have a large presence at the event.  I will be on hand with several of my colleagues and we will be demonstrating some very forward looking technology, that I feel is quite innovative.  I thought it would be interesting to give a “sneak peek” of some of the technologies that we will be showcasing at the event.

Disclaimer

This blog entry describes technology that is currently still in the labs environment.  Microsoft’s intent with this type of technology is to build it into shipping products or services that are delivered to you.  There are no timelines or product plans available at this time and there is always a chance that you may never see this technology in a shipping product.

What is Photosynth?

The concept with Photosynth is that you take lots of photographs (that are digital or have been converted into digital) of roughly the same area from different angles and you run them through a process that identifies objects that the photographs have in common.  The Photosynth is a representation (part 2d and part 3d) of the pictures that you have taken.  You are able to “browse” through the environment in a way the seems like a virtual world, but you see it with the actual photos that you took.

The implications are limitless

If you have followed this blog, then you will know that I am a photo-hobbyist (still well on the amateur side), and I love taking photos and sharing them with the world.  When I heard about photosynth I was obviously intrigued (truth be told I was at Wrigley Field a couple days after that and took like 300 photos in anticipation of someday being able to synth them).  This could really make a fundamental change in how we recreate our vacations, as an example.


But there is more to this than just being able to recreate a place in time.  I mentioned last year at the .NET User group when I was talking about the semantic web that we were getting pretty good at tagging things and describing them, but we really had not yet tackled the “time” aspect.  I gave a very moving example of pictures taken at the same location in NYC in 1992, September 11th, 2001, September 14th, 2007 and September 11th, 2003.  One of the potential uses of photsynth is to break that time barrier.  Imagine a scene that has not changed much in 80 years (such as a historic theatre that has been preserved), you could intermix images from across the decades.  Cool thought, eh?

Want to see it in action?

Currently you are not able to run the process to synthesize photos yourself, but you can see some stunning examples of photosynths that have been pre-rendered.  The collections require a Windows Platform (XP SP2 or Vista) and IE or Firefox.  Please note that this is pre-Beta technology, so there is a chance that it will not run on your machine.  My favorite collection is the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy.