[FoRK] Cheap Electronics Dissection Project

Albert S. < albert.scherbinsky at rogers.com > on > Mon Sep 4 08:41:16 PDT 2006


As you likely know already the OLPC One Laptop Per
Child has as it's goal to mass produce laptops for
$100 each. If you look at the Hardware Specs you can
see that the child gets quite a lot for their
governments $100.

It seems to me that you could create a similar but
stripped down(to Ultra PC form Factor) device that
cost even less. The things to change would be:
-Nix the keyboard, but add an external keyboard
-Make the touchpad accecible in tablet mode(the only
mode)Note the touch pad supports both pointing and
-No swivel for screen, since always in tablet format.
-One wifi antenae instead of two.
-No speakers, but still have a headphone jack.
-No video camera.

I wonder what this would cost, obviously less than


--- Kragen Sitaker <kragen at pobox.com> wrote:

> Unfortunately this is mostly on the web, since it
> includes lots of
> photos.  Here's the basic text:
> I took apart some electronics with a retail price
> (here in Ecuador) of
> under US$10, in quantity 1, on the theory that
> things of this price are
> affordable to nearly the entire population of
> Ecuador, and most other
> developing countries. I took some photos and some
> notes.
> Here's a table briefly summarizing what I found.
> Most of the numbers are
> pretty approximate.
> [table omitted]
> The total cost of these eight devices was under
> US$45, a substantial sum
> when living in Ecuador, but a small budget for a
> research project.
> Why?
> I've seen access to information and communication
> technology change
> lives and societies during my lifetime, dramatically
> for the better. I
> think it's so important that no person or group
> should be able to
> restrict other people's ability to communicate or
> program --- that
> these are fundamental human rights.
> However, today, most of the world's people have not
> seen or experienced
> what I'm talking about, and can't effectively access
> these rights, even
> when there's no legal prohibition in their way. One
> reason for this is
> that they can't afford to own computers of their
> own, and for both
> technological and economic reasons, they don't have
> much freedom to
> program computers belonging to other people (e.g. in
> internet access
> centers.)
> Most of the computers in the world today are
> designed by and for
> first-world people: PCs, laptops, cellphones, etc.,
> are designed by
> people in Shanghai, Finland, Taiwan, Hong Kong,
> Seoul, the US, Germany,
> etc., and are primarily designed for the constraints
> and budgets of
> Japanese, US, and European markets.
> I suspect that if you designed a personal computer
> with the world
> population in mind, you'd come up with something
> different. There have
> been approaches along these lines already (Jhai,
> Simputer, OLPC) but
> most of them have failed, due to a wide variety of
> reasons.
> I spent a bunch of time reading price lists from
> electronics
> distributors, pondering the following question: is
> it possible to build
> a useful computer with a development toolchain, for
> a price most of the
> world can afford (under US$20, ideally under US$10),
> small enough to
> carry around, that can run off cheap batteries,
> powerful enough not only
> for a self-hosted software development environment,
> but also for reading
> and writing email, including a short-range wireless
> communication link
> for networking? I concluded that it was, with no new
> silicon.
> But I don't have much experience designing and
> building electronics, so
> I thought I should get a reality check from real
> retail market prices in
> a third-world country: what has already been built?
> Presumably any
> hidden costs of NRE, assembly, shipping, retail
> shrinkage, etc., will
> show up in the retail price --- although there's a
> risk that I'll get
> fooled by loss-leaders.
> Findings
> Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me, but it does: every
> single one of these
> devices was made in China, with the possible
> exception of the Sung Wei
> radio, which didn't say. The small watch said on the
> back, "Japan
> Quality. Made in China." I would have thought that
> at least some of the
> bottom end of the electronics market would be
> supplied from Indonesia,
> South Korea (the Sung Wei radio does have a Samsung
> chip in it),
> Thailand, Malaysia, or some place in South America
> (since I'm in South
> America), but apparently not. Both of the
> calculators are close copies
> of Casio models that cost two or three times as
> much.
> I was also surprised that every single one of these
> devices was built,
> apparently, for the US market. The labels and
> manuals are in English,
> and some bear FCC approval notices. I don't know
> where to look for
> electronics this cheap in the US, but they were easy
> to find here in
> Ecuador. It seems like there ought to be a
> substantial market in
> Spanish-speaking countries with similar levels of
> material prosperity;
> but of all of these devices, only the nice
> calculator had any labels in
> Spanish, although some others had some labeling in
> French or German, and
> several had the CE seal.
> I suspect that's why so many of them are children's
> toys or otherwise
> limited devices: not that it's impossible to build a
> more powerful
> machine for this price point, but that because more
> powerful computers
> are less interchangeable, the first-world customers
> of such more
> powerful devices aren't as price-sensitive as
> first-world buyers of
> children's toys, portable radios, pocket
> calculators.
> Most of them are robustly constructed, and some are
> unbelievably robust.
> It does seem that robust construction costs extra,
> though.
> Only one of these devices approaches the kind of
> computational power I
> think a personal computing device needs, and that I
> can bring to market
> --- the nice calculator.
> Acknowledgments
> Many thanks to my wife, Beatrice Murch, for her
> aesthetic feedback, for
> the use of her computer and digital camera for this
> project, for her
> technical assistance, and for her patience.
> Thanks to the Universidad Técnica Particular de
> Loja for providing me
> free access to the internet while I was describing
> this work.
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