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Effort Aims for Low-Cost Computers for Poor Children

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Computer scientists in the United States are working on a low-cost computer for young people in developing countries. The dream is for every child to own one.

The project is led by Nicholas Negroponte, chief of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mister Negroponte first announced the idea of a one hundred dollar laptop computer in January. He just presented an early version of the computer at the World Summit on the Information Society.

The three-day meeting took place earlier this month in Tunisia. The United Nations organized the conference to discuss Internet growth in developing nations.

To save money, the computers are expected to use the free operating system Linux instead of a product like Microsoft Windows. Users without electric power will be able to turn a wind-up handle to recharge the battery. A special full-color display will have the ability to change to a black-and-white image. That way, users could see it even in bright sunlight.

And the computers will be able to connect wirelessly to each other and to the Internet.

The machines will not be able to store huge amounts of information. But they will be made to survive rough conditions. Also, the lime-green color should make them more appealing to children -- and less appealing to robbers.

M.I.T. has set up a non-profit organization called One Laptop per Child to develop the computer. Five companies, including Google and News Corporation, have each given two million dollars to finance the group. The plan is to sell the computers to education ministries that order at least one million of them.

The laptop is still not fully developed. And there are other issues, like how to get Internet service to poor villages. But officials say they should have computers ready for shipment by the end of next year or early two thousand seven.

Countries that have expressed an interest include Brazil, China, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Thailand.

The computers may cost more than one hundred dollars to manufacture in the beginning. But Nicholas Negroponte says he wants to cut the price even more.

A two hundred dollar version may be sold to the public.

In Massachusetts, Governor Mitt Romney has proposed to buy a low-cost computer for every middle and high school student in his state.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. Internet users can read and listen to our reports at I’m Steve Ember.