Friday, February 03, 2006

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) via the $100 Laptop initiative

I first really heard about the $100 Laptop by the One Laptop per Child initiative (OLPC) from news coverage of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia, where Nicholas Negroponte and Kofi Annan co-presented a prototype. Having heard of similar initiatives before, e.g. the Indian Simputer or a concept called Nivo by Ndiyo (and undoubtedly there were and are other such initiatives), I wonder if this one will be successful.

Things do seem promising for this project... The goals are certainly very ambitious (hear: "plans to have up to 15 million machines in production within a year", "predicts could be 100 million to 150 million shipped every year by 2007") - but then, you have to set ambitious goals to reach real-world results, right? And this initiative is about something certainly worth dreaming for! The project clearly has enormous traction, and things appear to be moving: Since the UN summit in Tunisia, it has emerged that the major commercial laptop manufacturing company is involved in designing, and will be producing, the devices. In the U.S. the Governor of Massachusetts has submitted a bill to the legislature to deliver $100 laptops to all children in the state. A number of developing and emerging countries seem to be seriously interested, or have placed orders - the details are still a bit sketchy on this, as far as I could find. At the WEF in Davos a week ago a partnership with the UNDP was signed.

I do find the idea intriguing. The technical idea itself, I admit, but more importantly the vision and possible social implications this could have. Following are some of my assorted thoughts on various aspects of the $100 Laptop by the One Laptop per Child initiative.


Let's first look at the raw hardware specifications. While all of this is probably not completely set in stone yet, the direction it seems to be taking is: AMD CPU, probably not x86-based. No moving mechanical parts (no CD/DVD-ROM, no HDD), but Flash memory. Several USB ports. A novel and innovative display, which can work in "dual mode" B&W and colour. A "flashy" exterior design. Very low power consumption; chargeable with a hand-crank generator. Linux OS and software.

Some of it is "innovative" - not mainstream today, thus untested, hear possibly risky. To push costs down as much as possible in any way, it's probably worth taking some risks for this. From what I understood, some of the major questions notably around the screen as well as the power consumption are still open.

Their approach of flash memory and no HDD may seem vanguard today, but I read the other day that this is coming from classic commercial vendors, too, and will likely be commonplace in higher-end notebooks in a not too distant future. This is certainly very useful to increase the much needed robustness for such devices - as anybody will confirm that the hardware piece that most frequently fails in computers today is spinning hard-disks.

I am curious how that innovative dual mode screen will come along... being able to switch between a low-resolution colour and high-resolution black & white mode reminds me of good ol' Atari days! I hope you don't have to reboot to switch between modes (unless rebooting is fairly quick)? Such a "modal" interface (screen) could possibly also make the software more cumbersome... have you used a recent Palm (e.g. T5) where some of the, even built-in, software can't use the full display size? What a pain! Can a dual mode screen really not be avoided? What resolutions are we talking about anyway? Is it "paper-like" crisp display, like that e-Ink stuff that you hear more and more about, most recently just these days with Sony's new eBook reader? Are such screens capable of nice shades of grey? Maybe initial versions of the 100 dollar laptop could have just that - I wouldn't bet my money that a colour screen is a must-have; maybe just a nice-to-have? Again, it depends on the intended usage, but if this would help to position it as a learning device instead of yet another, but cheaper, gaming console - then IMHO crisp B&W is a feature, not a bug!

I wonder how much memory it will finally have, both RAM and long-term storage. The official FAQ says 128MB of DRAM, with 500MB of Flash; I'd think anything under a few GB of Flash, say 10 GB Flash, would be a pity, a risk. Digital Photo Albums, anybody? It's my 2.5 year old kid's favourite application - seriously. Pre-loaded offline Encyclopedias? Space for learning software? (Maybe more storage, disk-based, could be offered centralized, where needed, through a simple out-of-the-box wireless NAS shared in one school? Another idea may be to have built-in compression of some file types for storage on the Flash; remember Stac's Stacker for MS DOS?)

No CD-ROM/DVD seems right to keep power consumption down and movable parts out - I haven't ever missed one on my Tablet PC sub-notebook that I am writing this on! (Actually, one possible use that may prove popular could be to also use this device for watching movies, both instructional as well as for after-school entertainment. Not sure if the current display design would allow for this, does using "similar technology as the one used in those cheap portable DVD players" imply the refresh rate is fast enough? Maybe an external drive could be offered that connects via USB. Or how about some peer-to-peer streaming stuff; think one drive/player per say school class, and groups of kids watching a (same) movie on several laptops? A normal standard CD-ROM for VCD reading, rather than a DVD, will do based on my experience in India; although I'm not sure what the difference in price between the two is nowadays. Such CD support is not top priority, of course.)

Lastly on to another piece: Will it have reasonable quality and intelligently positioned built-in microphone and speakers, and simple plugs for microphone and headphone (not just USB, for cost)? Firstly, for Text to Speech (TTS) which may be interesting for literacy applications? Secondly, for recording and subsequently listening to voice messages - this is not very big in "our" world, other than the voice mail on your phone; few people seem to record and attach voice messages to typed emails. But if you don't have phones at all, maybe recording a voice clip and sending it across the country in a hard disk on a motor bike (see below) could prove to be a popular usage - particularly for the parents of the kid that the laptop belongs to, who may be unable to read and write much? This idea would also be applicable if the connectivity was some kind of store-and-forward architecture.

Thirdly, and most interestingly probably, a built-in microphone and speakers would allow the laptop to be used as a VoIP device. This would require always-on connectivity and sufficient available bandwidth, but for cases where there is no or unreliable POTS connectivity, and e.g. some satellite IP link is being set up along with the laptops for the children, this usage could be hugely interesting in itself. All of the three suggested uses are not only about including a microphone and speaker, but at least as importantly about easy built-in software using the microphone and speaker.

Another aspect, more "architectural" than about individual components as above, is the classical "one user, one device" paradigm prevalent in most current PCs - and as far as I can tell in the $100 laptop. In principle I think this is the right approach... also because, somewhat to the surprise of my idealistic self, "ownership" seems to be a very important concept to children (and thus I guess all humans) - else my 3y old son wouldn't remind me that "this MY Lego, papa!" However, somewhat similar other projects in this space have suggested alternative architectures; the Simputer can be a "shared computing device" based on a built-in Smartcard Reader/Writer, and the Nivo/Ndiyo is a thin client approach - both mainly motivated as cost saving measures, I think.

I'd probably steer away from the shared device approach. As for a thin client style (each appearing to be personally owned, although completely interchangeable), the main counter argument is probably the need for maintenance/administration and general dependency on the central server, think e.g. particularly power in this context? Still, maybe providing a (much) cheaper wireless portable thin client (think one-chip LCD+wireless controller; nothing else inside, particularly no memory and real CPU, which are probably the next most expensive part after the display?), for say $20 instead of $100, plus a commoditized say $1000 Dual-CPU with 2 GB RAM server, per school/entire village, could of interest in some situations? This is assuming that the configuration and loaded software etc. of all devices would be very homogenous, which is probably a fair assumption in this context? If the server could run say 100 clients (essentially running very similar software to what was built for the full $100 laptop of 128 MB RAM each, but with all of the OS and application code shared, thus only using about 16-32 MB for per-client data) then this seems at least imaginable, and would mean a total cost of just $3000 instead of $10'000 - for the 100 children. Still, that's a lot of ifs and assumptions of course, and only real pricing, scalability and the "market" can tell if there was an interest for (also) providing this - later.

Software & Development Model

Contrary to the hardware specs, I haven't been able to find much about the planned pre-loaded software etc. yet. Should one assume the software will be relatively "standard" Linux, so something along the lines of X11, GTK, Gnome or KDE, OO and Mozilla stuff? Or a more custom developed and tailored suite of applications? (Given the only 128 MB RAM, the latter may be more likely, given that say just Thunderbird+Firefox alone easily eat up say ca. 30+50 MB. Or not; could you actually configure a "standard" desktop Linux environment to work OK on "just" 128 MB RAM?)

A key question of this aspect will likely be if the OLPC Foundation's main goal is to get "cheap raw iron" or a centrally organized software development model leading to a complete pre-loaded "educational laptop" out of the door? In the first case, individual receiving countries, groups, ministries, schools, or even individual recipients would have to search for and evaluate software options, customize, pre-load, and install software.

I assume they'll probably opt for a strong standard "image", think kernel, drivers, including hopefully good default browser, email client etc. At the same time, leaving the door open for innovation and participation by the larger community, so by no means a "locked down" box is clearly important. Particularly targeted receiving countries certainly do have a lot of talented folks, and it should be as easy as possible for folks to jump on board and start hacking and trying out interesting new applications.

So a federated development model with a strong central coordination role of e.g. the OLPC may be a suitable approach. Just how much coordination is useful probably remains to be seen, but why not e.g. a registry of suggested/needed software, a forum to coordinate software development between parties using this. Or how about volunteer summer projects for CS university students, like Google's summer of code thing?

By the way, I wonder what the OLPC partnership with Google is about anyway... I clearly see the "conceptual" links (e.g. grassroots & large scale) and understand they have provided some financial backing, but wonder if they are working on something specific together at this point? Software? Connectivity? Definitely many very smart geeks over there... and who says brainy geeks couldn't come up with useful ideas to reduce poverty in the world by improving children's education?

On another note, if standard Linux Desktop software is not applicable, maybe "picking" from other earlier projects is of any interest? Simputer software is supposedly made freely available - may be worth a look if any of it could benefit the OLPC project. Also, as there is anything from good ol' Apple Newton left over that could of interest? How about looking at NewtonScript and the data soup, and freshen it up more in the direction of "content", with the relevant synchronization, easy application building, and a modern dynamic programming language, all built-in to ease building learning-oriented applications on the OLPC device? Maybe the apparently planned inclusion of Squeak goes in this direction. Sounds pretty interesting to me; I need to look more into that stuff.

On to some more specific ideas for software: Could support for "non-real-time Internet connectivity" be built-into e.g. the browser, or even a lower level?

I myself often read some web pages that I had downloaded while on the network at home while traveling, disconnected from a network, and of course when clicking on a link you get some stupid technical error message. Why can't the thing remember I want to read the linked page later and "queue" it somewhere? This idea is probably more much more relevant in some OLPC scenarios than it is for myself; what if you are connected to the "Internet by Motorbike" say only once every two weeks, as in the Motoman project in Cambodia?

Making it possible (and easy!) to store Emails to one device, then to another, and ultimately forward to Internet when connected sounds like a great idea. Probably not just Emails, but requests to download information, publishing of content such as homepage or blog updates, etc. Doesn't it make you feel like good ol' FIDO Net is back?

The Wi-Fi Mesh Net should be seen in this light. It is probably not only about sharing a real-time always-on Internet access. For example, it may be useful to be able to send email, or easily exchange files, within an ad-hoc network of $100 laptops forming a wireless Village Area Network (VAN), without any central server infrastructure, and configuration thereof, whether DNS, DHCP or SMTP or anything of that sort.

On to another area of software: Just pre-loading some enterprise collaboration tool (you know, shared calendars, to do lists, and document manager) is probably of limited interest. However, how relevant are more specific school/classroom collaboration tools, e.g. something like the "Future Learning Environment" Fle3, in the OLPC context? How pertinent is eLearning stuff? Probably not so much in primary education or am I wrong?

In some way the software and content may be at least as important as the raw hardware in the larger picture of the OLPC vision... A quick search today revealed low-end desktop PCs to be going for somewhere in the $250 - $350 range. Prices of commercial laptops are higher, but also dropping by the month, and in the medium term (few years probably still) a sub-$100 laptop is possibly commercially available anyway, maybe also because of this project's impact on the commercial market, e.g. thanks to available innovation in display technology (that OLPC is not patenting) etc. or simply because of market price pressure. At that point of largely commoditized low-end hardware, what content and software is made available will define progress, not the hardware anymore.

Educational Tool & Content

It took me a little while to understand that this is aiming to be more than simply, say, "distributing traditional school material in electronic form". The aim is to enable children, by distributing Internet-connected laptops, to learn better - on their own, thus augmenting the traditional form of a "broadcasting-instructor-led" learning experience.

This fits with what has been observed e.g. in India by "minimally invasive education method" research, by the people around the Simputer project, where a computer was made available mounted on a wall to children who had never before used one: "(...) six-to-thirteen-year-olds can teach themselves to use computers regardless of their social, economic, ethnic and even linguistic status. (...) We always underestimate their abilities."

This is not limited to the developing world, as results from using computers in the classroom in a US state seem to demonstrate. There is something about learning, at self-paced speed, with a computer that is different... it's responsive, you can try out things, and, it's not the human teacher or the kid sitting next to you - maybe this sounds strange, but (to some kids at least?), this probably helps with learning.

I am still a little curious as to what this may translate to in practice. Only enabling Internet access is unlikely sufficient, though in my mind certainly an aspect of this; and the people behind OLPC have almost certainly thought of this. Will there be specific applications written and included with this device? For starters, e.g. literacy applications to learn or improve reading and writing skills like I believe the Simputer has for Indian languages? Other applications to teach say like basic math? And content like History, basics of Law and Human Rights? Who will decide? Once there are many, how will they be distributed?

One prime candidate, which has been mentioned by others already I believe, may be the now well-known Wikipedia. Its founder after all wrote, quote: "I'm doing this for the child in Africa who is going to use free textbooks and reference works produced by our community and find a solution to the crushing poverty that surrounds him. But for this child, a website on the Internet is not enough; we need to find ways to get our work to people in a form they can actually use." Another candidate with possibly interesting content may be the OneWorld connection. Certainly others more knowledgeable in this domain will know about other on-line communities which would naturally fit with the OLPC project.

There may be some technical challenges for local inclusion of such currently online Web-oriented content for offline reading on the device, or otherwise easily made available, unless ubiquitous Internet connectivity can be provided, but I believe such problems can be solved. If simply the amount of the content is a problem due to the limited memory (?) of the devices, maybe some sort of a distributed file system, with all devices in one school holding partial content, be suitable here? If Internet connectivity is available, but with very limited bandwidth, doing centralized local content caching on a server is of course trivial. To again avoid any central infrastructure requirements, maybe some funky peer-to-peer distributed caching could be devised?


Some thoughts on the money side, how this will be financed etc. As I understand it, OLPC has received funding to get started. The idea is to produce and sell the laptop at production costs to governments. What I don't get is how the numbers would work out for the countries that are being mentioned as being interested, like China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand. A $100 times how many children in primary schooling age these countries have, isn't that still a very important investment? The UNDP has officially jumped on board and will support this - I am curious if and from where the money will ultimately be made availabe.

Don't get me wrong - this most certainly seems a very worthwhile cause. In fact, it made me think of that quote about "give a hungry child a fish and you'll have fed him for the day, but teach it how to fish and you have given her the means for feeding herself a life long", or something like that. Investing in children's education should clearly be very high on any countries spending priorities.

Grants for such a large-scale program could probably come from established philanthropic foundations (The Soros', Aga Khan etc. of this world?) and first world states active in this fields. It may also particularly appeal to respective arms of commercial enterprises in the IT field; e.g. to me this sound like a match to the new Google Foundation's motto who wants "to do things at scale". And "One Laptop per Child" certainly sounds like "scale" - this doesn't look like it is about your average NGO or corporate lets-ease-our-conscience by sponsoring some classrooms somewhere with some fresh pencils, schoolbooks or just a couple of computers.

But I wonder if substantial amounts could be collected from private individual donations as well? Here is why: To me, this seems a "match" for "personalized" donations - instead of $50 into a big pool to "eradicate hunger", you'd give $100 for a tool to a child, one child. A child with a name. It's like those "adopt a child and donate $10 monthly for food" etc. schemes. Except that here, maybe the donors name would initially appear when the laptop is used, "This laptop has been sponsored for you by XYZ, plus picture. Click here to send a short Thank You Email, describing what you are planning to do with your new learning tool." It's just an idea; gauging whether there could be novel approaches to the "money input" side as well in this project.

Of course, the idea of a commercially available version of the laptop has come up as well. "Those might be available for $200, and $20 or $30 will come back to us to make the kids' laptops.". For some reason, I have some doubts that say brand conscious teenagers in developed nations would be very interested in purchasing such a device - and maybe that's quite all right. Depending on the software or content on them that sets them apart, maybe it would have similar relevance for primary level education in the developed world as it in developing countries. Similarly, I think there may well be a commercial space for a very low-cost Internet access device for the many underprivileged in developed nations, outside of the educational space. However, successfully commercializing the laptop probably shouldn't be in OLPC's scope. Now that Quanta is involved, and the $100 design is not going to be protected or any part patented - how about just letting the commercial laptop market forces deal with this? As long as it's ensured that some chargeback comes back to OLPC. Or maybe not even, as increased commercial sales would implicitly lower the production cost? (It may be hard to delineate what an OLPC-based/inspired design is after some point of diversifying commercial models; unless it's simply the use of the innovative display technology. Although, wouldn't that be almost like licensing the patent again?)

Support & Service

On to something else: Some bloggers have questioned how service would work for the $100 laptop. A fair point to raise I guess. Some thoughts:

From how I understand the model, neither OLPC nor the original manufacturer themselves would probably want to get directly involved in any service or support chain, neither end-user nor 2nd-level. I'd expect much of this to be done by local partners and intermediaries; possibly not so much in the traditional commercial hardware vendor sector, I'm thinking more of local self-service structures. But there are probably some things that can be done and thought of during the design of the $100 laptop to facilitate this aspect.

For example, the local whiz kid at school should at least be given a fair chance to unscrew the cover to say find the cable from the power plug to main board that may have fallen loose, and be able to re-solder it without burning the CPU, hopefully not placed right next to it. Widely available standard plugs & cable types probably are a good idea here - contrary to what one sometimes gets the impression commercial laptop vendors do.

Also important, a professional high-end quality verification program with ongoing feedback from the field, not really about fixing one broken device at a time, but effectively collecting information for avoiding a given known problem in the next iteration, is likely also a very important piece of the service story. By the way, the "feedback-loop" will be extremely important not just for the hardware robustness improvement, but also to learn about usage patterns, software features, etc. I wonder how this can be effectively organized at such a large scale?

Apart from all those hardware aspect, curious kids will certainly easily manage to screw up the software side of the device - and they should! A built-in hard-reset that can re-initialize the OS etc. from ROM; sort of like my ThinkPad has with a hidden partition on the HDD that can re-install without the usual Recovery CD, is very effective and useful, I found. (You always have the problem of personal data, files, and configuration settings. Some solution for that would have to be provided; e.g. easily copy to your friend's device over the wireless network?)

Last but not least, one area that comes to mind is that of environmental concerns in this context; particularly of batteries and devices to be disposed in general. This area should certainly be given thought. In my native country Switzerland all electronics equipment now has a mandatory surcharge on purchase, and that money is used to appropriately dispose old equipment, which can be returned to any point of purchase, independent of original vendor. Probably some sort of scheme like that is needed. Maybe it could be enhanced by actually returning some of the initial surcharge money to whoever turns in disposable laptops and batteries? When I was in India a few weeks ago, I noticed a scheme like this for paper recycling: Apparently you actually get money for brining old paper to recycle somewhere. It's not much, but still enough to create a small business of people going from door to door collecting paper to recycle, and consumers to keep paper instead of throwing it away into the garbage.


Now, suspending the utopian and idealistic mood for a second, here is another aspect that went through my mind: Does any thought have to be given to things like black markets and other alike ugly phenomena? Just a thought... if these are for education distributed through the state only, wouldn't there be a danger of re-channeling devices to be sold instead? Should they be commercially available just because of this? Or to the contrary, if similar devices were sold on the official world market, would this lead to corruption diverting devices from one purpose to the other, not reaching the intended audience? This question has of course been raised before, and I have read about one idea that the devices could be "yellow like a school bus to make it unattractive to thieves" - but I wonder if it will be quite that simple?

Even if they are not channeled to black markets outside of the education system in one country - how to tackle problems of corruption leading to e.g. more devices going to privileged upper class schools instead of remote rural areas, if that is where they were intended for? Just flood one given "market" with so many machines that this is unlikely to be of any interest?

There is also, certainly valid, concern for "abuse" on the production side of things; I mean of the hardware, probably not the software. I have read some pretty horrible reports on environmental problems in China and the effects this has on some local populations; I think the article was about some place where they "recycled" used electronic equipment without any precautions when dealing with hazardous materials, with entire villages terribly sick, and ground water contaminated, etc. It would certainly be a shame, literally, and unacceptable to the project, if the production of a cheap laptop for children in one part of the world would negatively impact children, or adults, in another part of the world.


To me, this is certainly a very exciting project. I hope the time is right for this to happen, and have a lasting impact on the world and in particular those who need it most.

Best of luck to the OLPC project - and let me know how I can help!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

100-Dollar Laptop: UN Secretary General’s Office shouldn’t be used for exploiting the poor

My eyes were stuck to the news that the UN Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan, while launching a 100-Dollar Laptop, on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia, said “the invention is an impressive technical achievement. The project promises to provide flexible technology that can be used in any place, even in the desert without energy supply”. It is also reported that the U.N. is backing the project even with financial support thinking that it could help to promote education in the Third World. A professor and his team mates of MIT (USA) have claimed the credit for the project and the invention (!).
At the very outset, let me state certain hard facts, which I believe will largely explain the title of today’s write-up. Long 31 years ago, in 1975, I invented the Free-play Radio technology and demonstrated a working model in a jam-packed press conference on 23 July 1975 in Dhaka. The news came out in almost all the news papers in the country in addition to an editorial the following day. Raymond Lee Organization, Inc.(USA) wanted to take initiatives for patenting the invention and marketing the product (Receipt No.71001, dated 13 February 76 ) when I contacted them from the then West Germany. On the request of Bangladesh Science Museum, a working model was presented to them in 1978. The invention, although apparently a simple (addition of storage facility to a hand generator) one, was never conceived and publicly demonstrated by anyone on this earth before 23 July1975. It opened the gate for free playing and playing low-powered electrical gadgets and equipments in remote and yet vast electricity-less areas of the world.. Thus the technology is especially handy for mass communication, mass literacy, emergency weather forecasting or as a life-saving communications tool following a natural disaster ( be it in the coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal or New Orleans city), mass-scale low-powered emergency medical equipments etc. However, to reduce the price of a product with free-play facility and bring its price closer to the product without that facility, mass-scale production was a necessity, for which the desire to do so by the wealthy and powerful people who rule and control the world economy was also essential. But it appears that the world leaders were not keen to give the green signal unless and until the very free-play technology could be hijacked, first by the British and then by the Americans.
In 1989, I sent a brief on my inventions and research works (including the free-play radio) to ITDG (UK) in the hope of mutual cooperation. In reply, they informed me that they would be establishing an office in Dhaka soon and re-contact me after that. But they never contacted me again, although they opened their office in Dhaka alright. One fine morning, on 28 August 1996 to be precise, through a British High Commission press release in a local daily, a company named Bay-Gen proclaimed itself to be the inventor (!) of the Free-play radio, which was reported to be developed under British technical and financial assistance under the ODA program. Immediately after the British press release, a wave of protests flooded the news papers and periodicals in terms of editorials, post-editorials, features, letters etc. in the country. Bangladesh Patent Office gave me recognition as the inventor of the Free-play radio and congratulated me for the invention and wished all success. The Bangladesh Govt. and I contacted the British High Commission, Bay-Gen company and the British Patent Office, but no to-the-point replies were received. Understandably so, since the UK Patent Office awarded a patent to a British named Trevor Bayliss in the 90’s on a technology which was in display in the Bangladesh Science Museum since 1978 and which was publicly demonstrated even before, i.e. in 1975, which is not only unethical but also highly illegal. The illegal invention of Bay-Gen received BBC product design award 1996 also. When the matter was raised to the BBC, they replied “development of the Bay-Gen is not a BBC matter”. A question was asked on the conscience of the BBC “Had it been the other way round i.e. a British invention in 1975, could you still have given a BBC product design award to a Bangladeshi company in 1996 and a reply to the British inventor “…..not a BBC matter” ? But no reply was received. According to a report titled “Launch set to go like clockwork” published in a foreign news paper, Bay-Gen received a multi-million pound cash boost from the GEC(USA) and planned to produce devices like free-play radio (originally planned for use in African bush fighting aids, with the blessing of the President Nelson Mandela, would go on sale throughout the world for about 50 pounds), mobile-phone charger, torch light, even TV sets etc. in its plan to launch a billion-pound business. During the recent war with Iraq the BBC talked about (and showed the product) using 5000 free-play radios by the allied forces. The 100-dollar laptop authorities must have acquired the hand-cranking free-play technology’s manufacturing right from the illegal patent holder as already mentioned above. A hand-cranking mobile-charger is recently being flooded in the local market @ USD 2, and appears to be a Chinese/Taiwanese product although no manufacturer’s name is printed, without caring for any patent rights. The President of a Japanese company appears to be right. He came to Dhaka towards the end of December’04 to discuss with me the modalities of acquiring the manufacturing rights of my new invention of free-electricity (2002) and commented on my new invention “the Americans will not care for your patent on such technologies, some Japanese companies may care but not every company will and the Chinese wouldn’t take more than seven days to reach your home with a manufactured product if they get a prototype”. He further added “some people told me that you did not elaborate in certain places in your patent paper”. I replied “75% answer of your question have just been replied by you yourself. Besides, there is hardly any time left to complete the patent formalities for the invention. I am not sitting idle, I am trying to develop a better process, and also to make a prototype with that”. At that time, I also discussed with him about my hand-cranking mobile-charger technology which he appreciated and now I can see the manufactured product in the market.
My new invention of Free-electricity has already been registered with World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) with a filing No. PCT/IB03/03366 dated 04 August 2003. The 44-page story with diagrams and a very favorable search report from the American Patent Office (USPTO) acting as the International Searching Authority (ISA), has also been published by the WIPO in the form of a booklet and is also in the display of WIPO website since 04 March 2004, under publication No. WO 2004/019476 dated 04 March 2004 (revised on 22 April 2004 for correction and again on 22 July 2004 to accommodate the ISA report). Actually, the ISA report dated 21 April 2004 from the USPTO was delayed by about 5 months. When the legal section of WIPO was contacted, they replied “there may be special circumstances where time is needed to resolve matters arising in connection with important workload in certain technical areas etc. As to your particular case, I would suggest that you contact the USPTO directly. You may also inquire about any refunds in such a case.” Accordingly, I contacted the USPTO, but I did not get a proper reply.

On 04 July 2004, the patent paper of my new invention was sent to many notable eastern/western universities of the world for their evaluation and comments. Although the “Innovation” magazine of Singapore National University opined it to be a “too high level research work”, the aforesaid MIT (USA) refused to give any comment on it. People started saying that the MIT was busy in building a mobile laptop using Bangladeshi technology and therefore it refused to talk at that time. Energy Technology Innovation Project of Harvard University (another university of USA) replied “we (the project of Harvard) do not do any original research either of science or of technology”. Most of the Universities of the Western world replied “this is not our project, we do not want to be involved”. My answer to all the universities was “I certainly honor your decision if it is honest and non-racial. But the way my free-play technology was hijacked, how can I be sure”? I did not get any further reply. A journal of the Physics faculty of a notable university of Canada was almost ready to publish the paper. But they asked me for my postal address on the plea of “addressing me properly”. As soon as they found out that I am from the Third World, they did not correspond with me any more. A New York born President of the Conserve Energy Engg. Inc. wrote to me while reading my paper “I am impressed with the parts that I have read. The dangers in bringing forth a low cost or free energy source, dangers that you must be aware of by now, the "powers to be" or most certainly in the USA, Corporate America and also the worldwide Oil Mafia, will do just about anything to protect their interests”. Not a single university however could point out any fault in my paper and I strongly believe that my pressure-motion equivalence theory is correct and there is no scientific basis behind Newton’s third law of motion.

Although I received a local patent on my new invention of Free-electricity (and a very favorable search report from the International Searching Authority), I could not manage patents in other countries for want of sky-high financial requirements. Since I am a member of the International Federation of Inventors’ Association (IFIA), Switzerland, and the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE),USA, and an invited scientist of many inventors’ associations like East West Euro Intellect, World Association of Inventors, SIMED etc., I had

requested the inventors’ associations to try to make an arrangement to evaluate a WIPO published patent paper with a favorable search report , after the leading universities of the world had expressed reluctance to do so. An inventor cannot plead his case himself in the national phase of an international patent application. An attorney or at
least an address of correspondence in that particular country is required, which is highly expensive and really impossible for an inventor of a Third World country. As it is, the basic fees for pursuing a patent is exorbitantly high too.
Coming back to the comments of the UN Secretary General on the 100-Dollar Laptop, it is worth mentioning that there was again a wave of protests in the leading local dailies against the hijacking of the Bangladeshi technology of Free-play Radio by the100-Dollar project authorities. On the question of 100-Dollar Laptop’s technical achievement as opined by the UN Secretary General, I became tired and was unable to find any such thing. The Linux operating system, the flash memory instead of hard disks/CD-Rom drives, the LCD displays (the dual-mode display as claimed by the project was not operational in the WSIS prototype. The prototypes were shown with conventional transmission TFT LCD displays)etc. are pretty old technologies. Cheap components have been used in the 100-Dollar Laptop. But one who knows about the definition of “invention”, should understand that merely using cheap things to reduce the price does not constitute an invention. Use of "parasitic power" of typing, although not a totally new idea, could however be considered an achievement if it could be economically and reliably utilized. But I am afraid, this seems not to be the case so far. Using of low-cost, low-power and high-resolution eInk displays will be a good idea, but the project’s undisclosed technology appears to be not a novel one either and understandtably the project has no plans to patent their display innovations(!). As far I understand, the project authorities are not confident enough to bring such display innovations(!) in the market before the hardy Chinese (without any UN backing or multimillion pound cash boost from GEC,USA).
At the UN conference in Tunisia, several African officials, most notably Marthe Dansokho of Cameroon and Mohammed Diop of Mali were suspicious of the motives of the project, and claimed that the project was using an overly American mindset that presented solutions not applicable to specifically African problems. Dansokho said the project demonstrated misplaced priorities. Diop specifically attacked the project as an attempt to exploit a new market under the guise of "non-profitability". He further added “It is a very clever marketing tool. Under the guise of non-profitability hundreds of millions of these laptops will be flogged off to our governments. That's the only way of achieving the necessary economies of scale to get the price low. They've finally found a way of selling to a huge number of poor people. Even at a hundred dollars, as the well dressed Africans were pointing out last night, these things are absolutely not a bargain for an African child. Schooling for a year would make more sense. Better food would be nice. If it ever does make sense for Africa's children all to have laptops, this will surely not be until the price of them goes down to something nearer to ten dollars than a hundred. My guess is they will all have mobiles long before. And we don't need to give this one away. If somebody puts in the research to design the thing and really, really optimizes for cost, I'm sure there's a Chinese factory somewhere you can build it for”. Mr. Bill Gates in his criticism said "The world's poorest two billion people desperately need healthcare, not laptops".
Unfortunately, my “free-play” technology has been hijacked and incorporated in the 100-Dollar Laptop to reach a vast population of electricity-less poor people (without incorporating free-play technology this wouldn’t have been possible). Even a profit margin of barely USD 25 in the cleverly designed marketing plan of “one laptop per chid(OLPC)”suggests a profit of only(!) USD 50 billion, from the world’s poorest two billion people.What a Nobel-prize winning maketing plan indeed!
The western world preaches for open-market economy, but this OLPC maketing plan (with a minimum market lot of 1-million) will be executed through the corrupt governments( the beneficiaries of so-called western assistance programs through World Bank,IMF etc. while the common people have to shoulder all the loans with cleverly designed effective heavy interests), so-called donors, absolutely loyal to their masters the NGOs, and other similar arrangements under the umbrella of UN. One Mr. Lee opined "The U.N. is backing the project
because it can help promote education in the Third World". But the question is, what is the per capita income of the vast targetted people? I am afraid, the figure may not be very much away from USD100, if the income of the western so-called assistance nourished so-called elite groups are not taken into account.Therefore, after being forced to buy a 100-Dollar Laptop, he wouln’t have anything to eat ,anything to live on or anything to wear (attire
is a must for the poor, although optional for the western people).However, the OLPC project will be first launched in countries like Nigeria, Egypt, India, China, Brazil , Argentina and Thailand. Between five million and 15 million units are expected to be provided to these countries.
Actually, even the computers failed to calculate the wealth gathered by the powerful and leading arms- producing countries of the world each year. They invest the surplus wealth in a highly profitable business of so-called assistance programs(in terms of interest, supporting even the misdeeds of the so-called donors, listening to harmful dictations, serving as an assured market and accepting all kinds of garbage tools and so-called experts etc.) by channeling the money through the world Bank, IMF , loyal NGOs and similar tools. They create and spread conflict and corruption and demoralize the people in other countries in order to sell their arms and to arrest their progress with an ultimate view of keeping a vast assured market and less powerful nations to rule.
In the WSIS, Mr. Kofi Annan also said “This is not just a matter of giving 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”, but the question is why should anyone be a scientist in the third world country? To give scope to the western world for hijacking their inventions or to helplessly tolerate USPTO delaying the search report by 5 months (on grounds of special circumstances where time is needed to resolve matters arising in connection with important workload in certain technical areas etc.) without giving compensations or to become a puppet to the whims of the rich people where “intellectual property” has been very cleverly and effectively been shaped as “rich people’s property” or to get no answers either from the governments or from patent offices on the question of alleged hijacking of inventions or to discover racism in leading western universities when they were reluctant/failed to evaluate a science paper or simply to be a victim of the West /oil Mafia in trying to do good to mankind?
If the UN sincerely believes in the welfare of the third world, why shouldn’t it try at least a few following things :
1. Close all the arms manufacturing plants in the world.
2. Make “intellectual property” as an “intellectual property” in reality and not “rich people’s property” effectively : (a) Make arrangements so that an individual scientist of the Third World can get a patent for the whole world with a maximum expenditure of USD 100. He should be allowed to plead his case himself and perform all the necessary formalities from his own residence through correspondence with his own equivalent currency. (b) Fully assist in fighting the “hijacking of inventions” cases, including my one in the International Court of Justice. (c) Make arrangements to evaluate a WIPO published patent paper with a favorable search report.
3. Monitor the ill-motivated so-called assistance programs through IMF, World Bank, loyal to their masters the NGOs and similar tools of the West.
4. Do not be a party to the huge profit-making programs of the West by exploiting the poor in disguise of humanity, child care, education and God knows what not.
5. Do not allow the West to escape competition from hardy nations under the umbrella of the UN by marketing any product forcibly (invisible) in huge numbers through corrupt governments, so-called donors, loyal NGOs and similar agencies. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….......
Written by: Nazmul Huda , 38/10 Siddheswari Road, Dhaka-1217, Bangladesh. E-mail :
Copy forwarded for your information and necessary action by : NAZMUL HUDA

25 May, 2006 03:28  
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09 March, 2007 02:32  

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