Fuseproject Unwraps The Third-Gen One Laptop Per Child

With the XO-3, OLPC unveils a design that will allow it to be customized for myriad markets.

Let’s get this out of the way. The OLPC XO-3, the rugged ultra-low-cost tablet addition to the One Laptop Per Child family, newly launched at CES 2012, is much thicker than the concept tablet, which they showed in 2009. Plus, it’s missing the ring!

"They’re still the ultimate goal," says Yves Béhar, founder of fuseproject and OLPC Chief Designer. The key component that enables the thinness of the concept tablet is flexible color e-paper, and that has been slow to come to market. When it does, the OLPC team anticipates that the robustness and low power consumption will make for an ideal very thin and lightweight tablet.

[The original XO-3 concept, featuring a slimmer design and that lovely ring]

The ring was a design solution to that anticipated thinness. "Children have a nonchalant way of handling things," says Béhar, and the ring made it easy for small hands to keep a grip on the tablet.

With technology dictating a thicker tablet, and a bezel around the edges of the screen, the XO-3 is more comfortable to grip; testing showed that the ring becomes unnecessary. "It’s a detail I like, but part of what makes OLPC exciting and different is that we have to be editors and make sure that everything is there for a reason," he says.

Testing and getting back reports of usage on the ground is a core part of the OLPC design process. From their previous experience, they knew localization would be key for this product. For instance, one of the benefits of a tablet form factor is that keyboards and other interfaces are entirely done in software, so it’s easy to swap them out for different languages and milieus. Easier than doing it in hardware, anyway.

There is localization in the hardware as well. This is localization not for language but for the infrastructural conditions of the places where the tablets will be used. Every XO-3 comes with a removable cover. "The cover is the multiple personality side of the tablet," says Béhar. They can be simple passive protection, but depending on the needs of a particular locale, other capabilities can be built in.

For example, one version of the cover comes with a solar panel on the inside along with a thin battery. When you are in school, using the machine, you can leave the cover out in the sun to power the battery. When you put the cover back over the tablet, the battery connects and recharges the machine. Béhar says they are also working on a version of the cover with antenna that will enable the tablet to communicate with satellites. There are more accessories to come. "We learned a lot with the original OLPC XO," says Béhar.

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  • steve clayton

    i can pretty much guarantee that when the flexible color e-paper does come to market it's not going to allow for a $100 price of this size of device for quite some time.

  • Steven Leighton

    Oh ... I hope the tablet has a built in speaker , camera and microphone. In some communities the family can look up weather and market information. the solar panel could run a seperate SW radio for all the family to listen to apart from tablet use at the weekend.

  • Steven Leighton

    Overall a great idea: Congratulations OLPC!

    Kids in developing countries have a lot to carry so a handle would really help. They might be carrying their big old heavy books back and forth each day, plus their lunch, plus soccer boots, plus ?
    A flat fold out handle parallel with the length of the tablet could fold under and tilt the screen up a little when in use. The corner fixed ring looks cute but would leave the tablet's diagonal opposite corner dragging in the dust. The mechanical strength required by that corner ring handle would not have been practical . In your tests I'm sure the kids are on their best behaviour.The kids need to be able to write their name on both the tablet and the top to avoid ownership confusion and fights.