Former OLPC CTO predicts a $75 laptop by 2010

In an interview, Mary Lou Jepsen, the former head of One Laptop Per Child and current head of Pixel Qi, talks about her departure from OLPC and her US$75 laptop plans.

IDGNS: There is a perception that you left OLPC to privatize the technology and make money out of it.

Jepsen: I arranged it with Nicholas [Negroponte]. My departure has been well planned and organized with OLPC. It was in place since spring of 2007 and I was committed to delivering the XO into high volume mass production. But as somebody that ... invents, develops and gets hardware into mass production, there wasn't much more for me to do at OLPC after ... that.

On some level, I was responsible for making a laptop ... and, I realized ... I should keep doing this. So I got access to the ... intellectual property and patents. Not because I was the inventor, and not even because the inventor has the really good chance of improving the price and performance of her invention, but because OLPC is the beneficiary as the licensee.

I'm still in spirit with OLPC, but now I'm with Pixel Qi, and I am not working on just children, but adults and trying to get the cost down. That doesn't mean just Dell on a diet if you will, but [a laptop] that people are proud to own and proud to use, at low cost and designed for different environments. The mass market -- there's literally billions of people that want to join this information age, and they need products too. They need interesting products, not stripped down stuff. The XO is probably the first in that line.

IDGNS: A US$75 computer seems optimistic considering OLPC's inability to produce a US$100 laptop. Can you walk us through the changes needed in component prices and system design to reach that target?

Jepsen: I don't think it's that hard, frankly. If you look at the cost of flash and DRAM, they go down 50 per cent year over year. You look at screens, they go down 30 per cent every year. If you look at the cost of CPUs -- well, some of them stay expensive -- there are several companies working on the US$10 CPU right now.

There are pretty low-cost [parts], but using low power, guess what ... you don't use the same amount of ... processing power. Your battery is really inexpensive if you don't use a lot of power because it won't need as many cells, for example. I think it's very straightforward.

There's ways to hit...[the US$75] envelope if you look at the mechanicals and the keyboards and everything else you need on the motherboard. I think we know how to...integrate the components and work with manufacturers and producers to get there very quickly to lowering the price and increasing the performance. But then again, you have to redefine performance for a cow herder and pick your country.

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