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Nonprofit group visits campus, hopes to give One Laptop Per Child

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Iain Davidson, Seth Woodworth and Steve Lewis discuss the medical implementations of the XO-1 laptop in developing countries. Last weekend, OLPC hosted an event in the UW Medical Center.

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The nonprofit OLPC project aims to distribute their laptops around the world, focusing on the educational opportunities the device provides for children.

The laptop weighs fewer than five pounds, is smaller than a notebook, has Internet capability and is equipped with programs for the essentials, such as writing papers. Dustproof, waterproof and with a swivel screen, the laptop costs $186.

The computers reach children in developing countries via One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a nonprofit organization providing technology to children so they can explore their interests and expand their learning.

Last weekend, OLPC hosted an event at the UW to work on projects and get others interested in their work.

“We’re an education project, not a laptop project,” said Mel Chua, an intern at OLPC.

The laptops are a tool to show children that they are not stuck having to do the same jobs as their parents, and that the world is full of opportunities, Chua said.

“Say a child’s interested in cancer,” Chua said. “The child can e-mail a UW professor and say, ‘Hey, I’m interested in cancer therapy’ and go from there.”

Although the organization is supported by contributions from individuals and businesses, governments from each country pay for the laptops and customizes the software. The keyboard is removable, allowing for a custom pad for language flexibility.

Different ports allow for various experiments, such as physics, chemistry and electronic labs. The screen swivels and folds on itself for easy reading, comparable to an e-book.

The batteries can either be replaced or charged. Charging the laptops is an educational experience of its own; in India, 15 laptops were charged by the energy generated from a cow walking around a broken taxi, Chua said.

The laptops, mass-produced in November 2007, rolled off the production lines in December. Since then, they have been distributed to countries across the world.

A 10-year-old in Mexico used the laptop to film the birth of a calf and uploaded it to YouTube.com, and a group in Thailand went on a field trip to photograph wildlife.

In addition to education, OLPC wants to work on improving health and living practices of people.

“We’re here to introduce people to health projects and how to contribute,” said Seth Woodworth, an intern at the organization.

Volunteers work on hardware, software and content so the laptops can do basic things like check vital signs of patients.

Woodworth also hopes to create programs that will give reminders to take medication and includes a flowchart to help people recognize their symptoms.

OLPC’s laptops are open-sourced, meaning anyone can access the software. The benefit of this approach is that the laptop is consistently changing and improving.

“OLPC is a low-cost laptop for change,” Woodworth said. “Anyone can get involved. We need educators, graphic designers [and] technical writers. We’d love to have volunteers.”

Anything from recording a book on tape or using OLPC as a basis for a thesis is helpful, Chua said.

OLPC is nearly all volunteer-run. As a global project, there are countless people involved. In Seattle alone, there are about 50 volunteers, Woodworth said.

To find out more about OLPC and ways to get involved, visit laptop.org.

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