Low-power solutions: energy harvesting and cultural implications

Last November, Richard Smith gave a talk on potential power sources for OLPC at the Energy Harvesting USA conference.

Ars Technica recently reviewed the XO-3 and XO-1.75 with an eye towards the future implications of low-power computing, discussing power generation by hand, by bike, and by water wheel as well as through solar panels.

Of course we’re not done with the low-power revolution; phones and computers – even the latest XOs – are still too power hungry to be quickly and easily charged by ambient light (as solar calculators are) or by hand (despite the simplicity of hand cranks, legs are much better suited for generating power than arms and hands). So while alternate charging works it requires explicit attention and preparation.

But in places without electrical infrastructure that have some steady source of power, computers and computing can increasingly be part of everyday life.

Kenyan teachers on strike, XOs and volunteers take over

In rural Eshibinga, Kenya, teacher Peter Omunga has at the Eshibinga Primary School, Kenya, been doing an amazing job sharing his experiences with Sugar and OLPC over the summer. Peter maintains the Eshibinga Digital Village blog, documenting the introduction of IT and electricity in their community. They recently received 2 XO laptops, which he has used to interest his primary students in reading, writing, math, and making videos. He has had help from Fred Juma at the nearby Bungoma pilot school and from global volunteer Sandra Thaxter.

Eshibinga is a rural part of the country that is starting to benefit from solar power centers, but that has very limited access to water, electricity, and healthcare.

The school had been keeping laptops in the principal’s office at night at first, but over the past weeks as a national teacher’s strike has emerged, the students were given the laptops to take care of, and received another two laptops from donors.

Sydney from the school’s IT Club has been writing about what it’s like to study on their own when the teachers are away:

Robert arrived carrying our usual [XO] laptops. They are normally stored at the school office. The principal had sent Robert to pick them from his office. He also had left a note for us. We opened it and read it out aloud. “Make good use of these xo laptops and take good care of them. They may be the only teachers you may see in this school until the government ends the ongoing teachers strike”

Students have been meeting at school on their own with their XOs to study computers and practice writing and videotaping their own stories (and considering what it means to share a personal journal with others). And one of their teachers has been maintaining a blog about their work this summer, and is with them at school, helping them learn despite the strike.