On Kindles and the importance of fixable machines

Kyle Wiens of the Fixers project is tracking how electronics and other gear is used and fixed across Africa — and which things are destined to be landfill. He writes in the Atlantic this month about the challenges of maintaining computers in rural schools.

He looks at a popular Kindle-as-bookreader program, noting how predictable their high levels of breakage were, and how useful it would have been to be able to repair them in the field.

He cites OLPC’s design, public repair guides, and comprehensive list of parts as models for others to follow. And he kindly offers to help projects like Worldreader and others write a good repair manual if they would only do so and ship it with their devices. Take him up on that — he writes well!

Princeton-Engineers Without Borders collab grows in Ghana

Separate from the national program being rolled out in Eastern Ghana, Princeton University has a student-run Ghana School Library Initiative which is building a physical library in Ghana stocked with books and OLPCs.    This program started in 2008, and is one of three projects coordinated by the Princeton University chapter of Engineers Without Borders. They shared an update with East Coast OLPCers this Spring, and have been writing about their new milestones this summer, as the library nears completion.

 

After some work earlier this year to repair and update some donated XOs, children have started working with their own laptops at the EP Basic school in Ashaiman, Ghana, where the team is working. They recently completed a week of physical construction and two classes a day with the students.   The classes included working on educational activities with the children in Sugar, “to whet their appetites” to use the XOs more on their own.

OLPC Australia’s XO-AU USB toolkit

OLPC Australia has released an update to their USB ‘toolkit’ for XOs, a collection of software on a USB thumb drive designed to assist in recovery, repair, and support scenarios. The new version is ready for testing, and Sridhar expects only documentation changes between now and its final release.

The XO-AU USB is OLPC Australia’s official means of delivering updates and troubleshooting tools to schools.

Peru’s new XO assembly lines

Peru has a large and complex XO project, certainly the most varied anywhere, with its mix of rural and urban, powered and off-grid. Now they are adding local assembly of future laptops, something many countries have considered but few have carried out.

As noted recently, local assembly offers shorter startup times for production, and gives the deploying country more of a stake in the ongoing project.
Peru is being supported directly by Quanta, our factory in China, in this. Similar arrangements will be a bit easier now that the first one is underway, but this sort of arrangement is hard to work out unless the deployment team is planning for a steady flow of hardware delivered over years.

Nevertheless, this is a great step for olpc sustainability. Between Peru’s interest in assembly, Uruguay’s recent interest in design for new audiences, and Paraguay’s interest in developing better software and OS builds, Latin American deployments are taking up shared ownership of most aspects of the project.

From their official announcement:
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Repair workshop this Saturday at OLPC HQ

This Saturday we’re holding a repair workshop and presentation — if you haven’t torn down your XO and rebuilt it from the motherboard up, now’s your chance to try on someone else’s machine — and to learn how to break down and rebuild one in under half an hour, with nothing but a Phillips screwdriver!

We’re holding a workshop Saturday through the early afternoon. RSVP if you’re planning to come. The machines worked on will primarily be XO-1′s, since those are still the machines most likely encountered in the field. The major differences on the 1.5 make these sorts of repair much easier, not more complex — there’s little reason to take apart the bottom on a 1.5, for instance, since the keyboards just pop out.

Nepal estimates its overall OLPC costs

Rabi Karmacharya runs OLE Nepal, the local team in charge of implementing the current project in Nepal (with 2100 children and teachers at 26 schools).  Today he posted an estimate of the total cost of their XO project — $77 per child per year. This includes network connectivity, school infrastruture, teacher training, repair, content creation, and administrative overhead for the project.

Rabi notes that many of these (connectivity, training, overhead) are fixed costs that go down with scale, and content creation is largely a one-time cost that they benefits all schools.  And this project is still a pilot — less than 0.1% of the country’s primary school-age children.  Other interesting details: their annual repair cost for the first year was just 2.5% – children and families are extremely careful with their laptops; something we have also observed in other Asian countries.

It’s tremendously useful to see this level of detail in shared data and experiences; thanks to the team for publishing it!  They also publish an amazing country coverage map showing every school taking part in the project, with data about each one.

I hope to also see more of this school-level sharing of data and experiences, from environment and power considerations, to usage rates and general feedback, to published creative work of the students!