Update: OLPC plans solar charging, satellite Internet for XO-3 [July 20, 2011]
The XO-3 will become available early next year or perhaps sooner, and price is still being determined, but it will still be under $100, Negroponte said.
The tablet will also include a camera on top of the screen, placed inside the bezel surrounding the display. A microphone will be placed in the bezel under the screen, and USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack will be on the sides.
Decisions are still being made about the display, which is holding up development of the device, Negroponte said. OLPC wants a transflective screen, much like the current XO, but with improved richness in e-ink and transmissive modes. OLPC plans to use spin-off Pixel Qi’s hybrid screen …
The original post:
Pixel Qi’s problems with mass manufacturing are well described in the latest June 3. update of Pixel Qi’s first big name device manufacturing partner is the extremely ambitious ZTE [Feb 15, 2011].
This all comes together in a prototype form to be shown sometime in the middle of February 2011 as per OLPC XO-3 Tablet Delayed [Nov 3]. Product delivery would be ready by the end of 2011 in a form suitable for developed countries, then a year later in another form for developing nations of the world. While an advanced cloud client capability based on then latest version of Google’s Android operating system will be perfect for the 1st world countries, the 3d world will get a next generation version of the current XO-1 and XO-1.5 computer from OLPC .
Follow-up: High expectations on Marvell’s opportunities with China Mobile [May 28, 2011]
Update: that plan is going well with the progress as best reported by XO-1.75: cutting through the nonsense [Jan 11, 2011] referring to the corrections by the VP of Hardware Engineering at OLPC to errors in a CES 2011 report, and also comments throughout the blogosphere regarding the absolutely coincidental announcement by Microsoft of their ARM support:
There were several errors in that [CES 2011] news article [with title: OLPC cuts price of XO 1.75 laptop to $165, power by half [Jan 7, 2011]] which I would like to clear up:
- the XO-1.75 will not have an 8.9” screen, but will continue with the sunlight readable 7.5” screen designed by Mary Lou Jepsen (now at Pixel Qi) used in the XO-1 and 1.5.
- the $165 price is fiction (BOM price hasn’t been finalized), but probably not very far from the truth for the non-touchscreen equipped version. Please don’t forget that since we don’t add any profit margin, the laptop price directly depends on the volume ordered.
- the switch to ARM was completely independent of any future support for ARM in Windows. That support was announced this week, while I’ve been pursuing this ARM design for three years, with active development over the last eight months. Furthermore, we are using the Marvell Armada 610, which won’t be supported by Windows (if you believe M$).
- Linux has shipped, and will continue to ship, on EVERY XO produced. You can believe random commenters, or you can believe the person who signs off on every SKU produced.
I’ll also add that a lot of work has gone into software development, including porting Fedora 14 to ARM and adding multi-touch support to the Sugar UI. This has been a long time in the making, and the announcement of Microsoft’s ARM port is a coincidence. Sorry, no riveting conspiracies here.
Some media reports have been implying that mass production will start by mid-year. This is incorrect. It may possibly be that the design is finalised by then, but planning and tooling for mass production and deliveries is quite an endeavour beyond that.
If you want the real information on the XO-1.75, look at the OLPC Wiki page. Right now, they’re up to Alpha test model 2. If you want to view or take part in the development discussion, head over to the devel mailing list (strictly speaking, this list is for software development, but the community are discussing the hardware there too).
XO-1.75 and beyond
XO-1.75 software development is underway. Today we’re announcing that we’re planning on using Fedora as the base distribution for the XO-1.75. This wasn’t an obvious decision — ARM is not a release architecture in Fedora, and so we’re committing to help out with that port. Our reasons for choosing Fedora even though ARM work is needed were that we don’t want to force our deployments to learn a new distribution and re-write any customizations they’ve written, we want to reuse the packaging work that’s already been done in Fedora for OLPC and Sugar packages, and we want to continue our collaboration with the Fedora community who we’re getting to know and work with well.
[Fedora was chosen more than two years ago and delivered in the very convenient Fedora 10 on SD card [Nov 28, 2008] format. This is why it has such a widespread use in the OLPC community, especially among adults who do not want to use the child focused graphical interface called Sugar but rather a desktop environment on their XOs.]
BACK TO THE ORIGINAL [Nov 4, 2010] POST:
Whatever will be delivered by Windows 7 tablets/slates with Oak Trail Atom SoC in December [Nov 1] or anything else the next XO-3 tablet effort outlined below will be an enormous threat to the current ICT establishment, everybody included (mighty Apple as well).
Two undisputed technology leaders are behind the whole engineering effort: Marvell Technology Group Ltd. for the leading System-on-a-Chip (SoC) capability and Pixel Qi Corporation for the incredible screen.
Follow up: Marvell to capitalize on BRIC market with the Moby tablet [Feb 3, 2011]
Follow-up: Kinoma is now the marvellous software owned by Marvell [Feb 15, 2011]
Update [Jan 6, 2011]: Marvell 100 series tablet [Jan 6, 2011] is giving quite a credibility to the follow-up project described in the rest of our post
[CES 2011] Marvell’s foray into the tablet market sees this rather cute and well designed model, the 100 series. Unlike other tablets that are in the market, this one comes with Android 2.2 (instead of 2.1), while sporting a rather young, all-white design with all the lines in the right places. A microSD memory card slot is there for expansion purposes, and you won’t get multi-touch support on the 10” display which is a bummer, so forget about zooming in or out in Angry Birds. There is 1GB of internal memory inside, while Wi-Fi connectivity is supported although 3G will not be present when it hits the market sometime this year for $199 a pop [with $99 manufacturing cost -- see in the below video]. Of course, as with Marvell’s OLPC project, the 100 series will target the educational environment more. It is pretty heavy, but it won’t weigh a ton like most textbooks. Looks hardy enough to stand up to the rigors of restless kids, too! Interestingly enough, being an Android-powered device, it has more than the usual 4 buttons of Home, Menu, Back and Search, but will include the “Up” and “Down” buttons, too.
Update [Jan 10, 2011]: Mobylize Tablet on ABC News: Good to Know [Jan 10, 2011]
Note while watching the video that the LCD screen used in the tablet has wide viewing angle.
Update [Nov 2]: Sehat Sutardja: An Engineering Marvell by IEEE Spectrum [Nov 2, in print Oct 27 but with the title of Marvell Inside] is describing the extremely deep electronic engineering mentality lead by the CEO of Marvell Technology Group Ltd. as the secret recipe for success from the very beginning:
Sehat already had plans for the first product: a better read channel for disk drives. It sounds incredibly specialized and it is, but it’s also one of the drive’s key components. The read channel takes the analog signal coming from the magnetic head as it scans the disk, converts the noisy signal to digital, and puts that information out onto the bus that will take it to the computer. Existing read channels used a bipolar transistor on a complementary-metal-oxide semiconductor substrate (BiCMOS), but Sehat planned to use only CMOS. That way the channels could be manufactured by a chip foundry like the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., so Marvell wouldn’t have to build its own fab. Using CMOS also meant that the device would consume less power. This would, however, present an engineering challenge: Existing CMOS read-channel designs were much slower than BiCMOS.
… they convinced Seagate Technology to take a chance. Ken Burns, an executive at Seagate, told them that the company’s next-generation drive would need a read channel at 240 Mb/s—could Marvell deliver? … They told Burns yes. In less than three months the Marvell team hit the 240-Mb/s mark, and Seagate became Marvell’s first customer. … Today, in terms of units sold, Marvell has about 60 percent of the market for hard drive systems-on-a-chip.
“This little start-up, with one product line, put Texas Instruments out of the read-channel business,” Ohr [an analyst with Gartner] says.
Added later: Winner: Pixel Qi’s Everywhere Display by IEEE Spectrum [Jan 20, 2010] is well describing the innovative screen technology in a way that the leading mind behind, Ms. Mary Lou Jepsen is also well represented. Here is a key excerpt from that:
The Pixel Qi display consumes far less power than traditional LCDs, drawing a peak of about 2.5 watts, of which the backlight accounts for about 2 W, says Jepsen. Turn off that light and slow the refresh rate, and you can maintain a static image—such as the page you’re reading now—with just half a watt. That’s still more power than is needed by electrophoretic displays, the generic term for the kind made by E Ink [and used in most e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle devices]. Electrophoretic screens are bistable, which means that the pixels can maintain a static image powerlessly. But e-paper also requires a higher operating voltage than the Pixel Qi screen, which means that if future e-paper displays offer faster refresh rates, their power advantage will likely wane.
… Pixel Qi has also beat E Ink to color. In the Spectrum conference room, Jepsen cranks the backlight all the way up to show off the color and video playback. The video is perfectly watchable, although it probably wouldn’t be your first choice if movies were the primary application [like with the TV sets]. The colors don’t look as saturated as they would on a glossy cinema display, but at least the blacks in dark scenes are very black. In other words, the Pixel Qi screen offers an excellent compromise for a class of gadgets defined by their low-cost versatility.
READ ALL the details below in order to understand the reality of the – seemingly, believe me just seemingly – bombastic claim in the introduction (… this will be an enormous threat to the current ICT establishment …)!
Here is the video interview accompanying the article referred in the introduction, to start with:
This engineering effort goes back to May with announcement that One Laptop per Child and Marvell Join Forces to Redefine Tablet Computing for Students Around the World [May 27]. The most important details are (emphasis is mine):
The new family of XO tablets will incorporate elements and new capabilities based on feedback from the nearly 2 million children and families around the world who use the current XO laptop. The XO tablet, for example, will require approximately one watt of power to operate (compared to about 5 watts necessary for the current XO laptop). The XO tablet will also feature a multi-lingual soft keyboard with touch feedback, enabling it to serve millions more children who speak virtually any language anywhere in the world.
The device is also decidedly “constructionist” in nature. By design, it combines hardware and software to deliver a platform that will enable educators, students and families around the world to create their own content, and learn to read, write, and create their own education programs and share all of these experiences via a mesh network model. The device will also feature an application to directly access more than 2 million free books available across the Internet.
“While devices like eReaders and current tablets are terrific literary, media and entertainment platforms, they don’t meet the needs of an educational model based on making things, versus just consuming them. Today’s learning environments require robust platforms for computation, content creation and experimentation – and all that at a very low cost,” said Dr. Nicholas Negroponte, Founder and Chairman of One Laptop per Child.
… “Marvell has made a long-term commitment to improving education and inspiring a revolution in the application of technology in the classroom. The Moby tablet platform – and our partnership with OLPC – represents our joint passion and commitment to give students the power to learn, create, connect and collaborate in entirely new ways,” said Weili Dai, Marvell’s Co-founder and Vice President and General Manager of the Consumer and Computing Business Unit. “Marvell’s cutting edge technology – including live content, high quality video (1080p full-HD encode and decode), high performance 3D graphics, Flash 10 Internet and two-way teleconferencing – will fundamentally improve the way students learn by giving them more efficient, relevant – even fun tools to use. …”
Marvell indeed has all the necessary SoC prerequisites and credentials for such a fantastic goal (both technically and market-wise) as described in my post Marvell ARMADA beats Qualcomm Snapdragon, NVIDIA Tegra and Samsung/Apple Hummingbird in the SoC market [again] [Sept 23] (BTW the most popular post on my blog by far).
The details of the original plan were described in OLPC’s Negroponte says XO-3 prototype tablet coming in 2010 [May 27] with an accompanying video interview shown below:
OLPC and Marvell collaboration has since significantly been strengthened as evidenced by (emphasis is mine):
Negroponte says the deal, signed in the past week or so but not previously announced, runs through 2011. “Their money is a grant to the OLPC Foundation to develop a tablet or tablets based on their chip,” he says. “They’re going to put the whole system on a chip.”
… it will form the basis of what might be called an interim step, a tablet developed by Marvell (and also apparently modeled partly on its own Moby tablet for the education market) that is intended for children in the developed world. As such, it won’t be the machine OLPC wants to distribute in developing nations. … The Marvell tablet will also utilize the Android operating system, while the XO 3 will be based on Linux, among other differences, Negroponte says.
“The first one would definitely not have our brand. It’s a First World machine,” Negroponte says. The plans are for Marvell to develop this initial machine, in partnership with OEMs and a partner in education, and release it for sale sometime in 2011, he says.
Negroponte says a follow-on version, based more completely on OLPC’s designs, will hopefully be ready in 2012. “The second one…would have our brand on it, because it will be identified with and for the developing world,” he says.
Tablets are all about consumption, said Negroponte. “You could say that Apple makes peripherals for iTunes,” he said. In a developing world and educational environments, you need haptics and ways to make tablets constructive. “You can’t turn these kids into couch potatoes,” he said. “You learn by making.”
Cloud computing won’t fly where OLPC plays. “Clouds are fine for us, but there are no clouds over Ethiopia, Rwanda and Gaza,” he said.
On her relationship with Negroponte, Dai said she met him five years ago and they talked about moral causes and technology. Marvell had the mesh networking technology used in the original XO. “The priority was affordable technology for poor countries,” she said. “Nicholas set a bar. In many ways, he invented the e-book, netbook microcosm and form factor. The other piece was to make those devices affordable.”
What’s the OLPC’s role today? Dai said that in many respects the OLPC is a design shop—something Negroponte has noted after laying out plans for the next-generation XO. “OLPC sets a bar and the industry takes it and commercializes it,” she said. “It’s like the old days where Bell Labs would create and others would commercialize it.”
Marvell, one of the world’s largest chipmakers, announced today that it’s launching a competition to recognize and fund the most clever new education apps for classroom tablets. The challenge invites ambitious, intelligent software developers around the world to create apps that transform the way students learn. Three winners will share prize money totaling $100,000, along with access to Marvell’s considerable engineering resources for support and testing.
The $100K Challenge, unveiled at the NBC News’ Education Nation summit, is a part of Marvell’s Mobylize campaign, the company’s long-range commitment to mobilizing technology innovation, speeding education innovation and bringing to students everywhere the inexpensive yet powerful tools they need to learn, connect and collaborate in new ways.
The campaign and the $100K Challenge were inspired by Marvell’s new Moby tablet reference design. The classroom-friendly Moby tablet reference design is a high-performance, low-power device based on Marvell’s ARMADA™ application processor and Google’s Android™ operating system. It’s the platform for which developers enter the $100K Challenge will design their applications – and it’s perfect for the part. It’s equipped with 1080p HD, advanced 3D capabilities and full Flash internet. For developers, the Moby tablet reference design provides far-reaching possibilities. For students, it opens vast horizons, at a price school districts can afford.
Ms. Dai is the only woman co-founder of a major, public semiconductor company in the world, and has helped lead Marvell’s 15 years of growth from start-up to a current market capitalization of $12 Billion.
… Today, Marvell is the third-largest fabless semiconductor company in the world, and ships more than a billion chips per year. Marvell provides two out of every three chips used in storage media critical to the infrastructure of the Information Age; its broad portfolio of leading network and communications solutions and high performance, low-power chips have rapidly become the technology of choice behind a broad range of connected electronics — such as tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices. From a half dozen employees in 1995, Marvell has today more than 5,700 employees on four continents.
“It is my passion to work to bridge my two homelands – China and the U.S. – and try to promote cooperation and economic growth in both powerful nations, particularly in the areas of semiconductor, communications, education and green technologies,” said Weili Dai, Marvell’s Shanghai-born co-founder. “For that reason, I am very proud that the Governor chose to launch his Asia Trade Mission from Marvell’s Silicon Valley campus and then a few days later, visited our Shanghai design center. I am also proud that Shanghai government officials were able to join Governor Schwarzenegger in highlighting the exciting new developments at our Shanghai design center. It is an honor that reflects well on Marvell’s global leadership and growing industry influence.”
During his visit, the Governor toured demonstrations of Marvell’s latest communications, computing and consumer technology and presided over the dedication of the expansion plans at the company’s Shanghai Zhangjiang facilities, including the plans for a three-way research consortium between Marvell, China’s prestigious Tsinghua University and the University of California Berkeley. Additionally, Marvell announced its support of the Governor’s Executive Order to promote integration of advanced technologies in early education with a donation of eReaders and tablets to PS7 Middle School, a St. Hope Public School in Sacramento, California, and Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Experimental Primary School in Shanghai, China.
In China, Marvell has operations in Shanghai, Beijing, Hefei and Shenzhen. Marvell’s Japan design center is in Tokyo; its South Korea operations are in Seoul. Marvell has strategic business relationships with the world’s largest telecom, mobile, and consumer electronics manufacturers in the region.
The screen technology in question comes from Pixel Qi as per ONE LAPTOP PER CHILD AND PIXEL QI SIGN CROSS-LICENSE AGREEMENT FOR SCREEN TECHNOLOGY [March 30]. The details here are:
OLPC receives full license to all Pixel Qi “3qi” screen technology, including 70+ patents in process and all current and future IP developed by Pixel Qi for multi-mode screens. Pixel Qi is leading the design of new screens for OLPC’s next-generation XO laptops. The agreement also calls for Pixel Qi to receive full license to the dual-mode (indoor and outdoor) display technology used in the XO.
“A huge barrier to getting computers to mass use in the developing world is limited access to electricity. Pixel Qi is designing new screens for OLPC that will keep laptops going even longer between recharges and excel in long-form reading while providing color and video,” said Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of One Laptop per Child.
… Mary Lou Jepsen, founder and CEO of Pixel Qi, added, “OLPC’s focus on the need for low-cost, low-power devices led me to invent power-efficient LCD screens that are optimized for reading. Commercial tablets, notebook computers and smart phones have precisely the same needs. This is one of the few examples in which cutting-edge computer technology first deployed for developing nations benefits the developed world as well.”
Pixel Qi is actually an almost three years old start-up by Mary Lou Jepsen, former CTO of OLPC. She made a very early commitment to support OLPC further on as described in her post about the Next Generation OLPC Laptop [May 21, 2008]. It contains a HUGELY important remark:
In essence, the future of computing is all about the screens.
She was a very early pioneer of that approach for the XO-1 computer designed by OLPC. Mark Foster, who was the engineering chief there, described her particular contribution (besides her overall influence as CTO) in Mark J. Foster at Stanford EE Computer Systems Colloquium (Part 1) [October, 2006] as (emphasis is mine):
Another thing that’s really unusual about our machine is the LCD display. Our CTO, in fact, has created something that is really special. What this panel does is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen reflective color, I’ve seen transflective color, I’ve seen transmissive panels, I’ve never seen anything like this. This panel is truly a reflective monochrome panel. No backlight, you see a 1200X900 dot per inch seven and a half inch LCD. And it’s dense. At 200 DPI, we’re talking very close to laser print quality. Certainly from the original laser printers. It’s really nice.
And then, magically, you turn on the backlight, and you see color. Really unusual, pixel structure, it’s all 100% Mary Lou’s invention, and this is a really neat part of the machine. Completely new text, I’m really delighted to have this component in our box, because it gives all kinds of cool benefits that we can exploit. In particular, it’s inexpensive, straight, but also very low power consumption. And this ability to instantly go between a monochrome, a very high-res monochrome mode with a great reproduction of text or whatever it may be, and immediately flip to color mode when you want to is totally cool. I wish I had brought one with me today, and show you, my apologies that I did not.
But, it’s running, it works, and in fact, just this last week, we did some [xx] on the panel, that doubles it’s reflectivity. We actually measured, and the goal of double that reflectivity worked. So it’s a really neat trick, and again, there’s no other system out there like this. And it’s something that is invention purely of OLPC. Not that someone came and told us. Mary Lou created this, pushed it into the LCD manufacturers and made it real. Really neat stuff.
And Mark Foster is the person to judge that properly since himself has been introduced in the above Stanford EE talk as a true pioneer:
He’s led different projects in portable computing at Apple, at DEC [Digital], and at Zenith. He created the first notebook with Ethernet, which was the Z-Note [introduced on the same date as Windows 3.1, see the Z-Note press release [Apr 6, 1992]]. The first true sub notebook [with 8.5-inch (viewable) black-on-white VGA], which was the Z-lite [see the press release [Nov 16, 1992]]. And the thinnest notebook in the world at the time, which was the Hi-Note Ultra [From Digital].
Indeed, there were a couple of quite innovative ideas put into the XO-1 laptop as has been described by their inventor in A Conversation with Mary Lou Jepsen [Jan 17, 2008]
It defies conventional wisdom to put a display expert in charge of a laptop architecture, but since the cost of the screen in a laptop is more than $100, it was the main barrier of entry to building a low-cost laptop.
What I’ve found coming to this project is that people who design computers don’t know a lot about displays, and in fact by starting with the display and designing the computer kind of backwards, rather than just slapping a display onto a motherboard, we can design a whole new architecture.
The architecture we’ve created is very powerful, not just for low-cost laptops, but for high-end laptops as well.
… If you look at what’s been happening in computers for the past 40 years, it’s been about more power, more megahertz, more MIPS. As a result, we’ve had huge applications and operating systems. Instead, at OLPC we focused on an entirely different kind of solution space. We focused on low power consumption, no hard drive, no moving parts, built-in networking, and sunlight-readable screens.
… we had to design a laptop that was also the infrastructure. It has mesh networking, which is the last mile, 10 miles, 100-mile Internet solution. The solar repeaters and active antennas that we’ve added into the mix cost about $10 a piece and help to relay the Internet. If one laptop in a village is connected to the Internet, they all are.
Yes, it might be just a trickle, a low-bandwidth connection from the Internet to the laptop, but between the laptops is a high-bandwidth connection through the mesh network. We use 802.11s, which is the standard for mesh.
… We use an AMD chipset, the LX-700, which allows you to turn the CPU on and off in a hundredth of a second. It’s not noticeable to the users whether the motherboard is on or off because the moment they hit the keyboard or get a Skype phone call or what have you, the CPU and motherboard are back up and running.
That also allows us to run the mesh at extremely low power: 400 milliwatts, compared with my ThinkPad laptop, which uses approximately 10 watts just to run Wi-Fi.
… We had to get rid of the hard disk, because not only is it the second most expensive component in a laptop after the screen, but it’s also a huge power hog, and the number one cause of hardware failures is hard disk failure. That’s three strikes against it. Instead, we used flash memory, which people are starting to use.
… I should also talk about the low-power display. We did something I’ve been doing for a long time in different kinds of display technology: putting memory directly into the display itself. You can’t do that with amorphous silicon, which is the standard transistor process used in LCD. To keep costs to a minimum, I used a standard process for the screen. But you can add memory in the timing controller. That means the screen can stay on while the rest of the motherboard or the chipset is off.
Why would you want to do that? It turns out that most of the time you’re using a laptop or a desktop, the CPU isn’t really doing much, even while it’s running at multiple hundreds of megahertz. Right now I’m staring at my laptop. Not a single pixel on my screen is moving. What’s the CPU doing on? What’s the motherboard doing on? The way to get to low power—the big secret—is to turn stuff off that you’re not using. But nobody has ever made a laptop with a screen that self-refreshes. You really do have to keep flipping the liquid crystal molecule; they like AC fields. The liquid crystal molecules fall apart in DC. You need to keep only two images in memory for that, and you can keep the screen on all day long.
We also put a tiny ARM core in our Wi-Fi chip. We used the Marvell chip because it’s the only Wi-Fi chip with a tiny ARM core in it, which means Wi-Fi can also stay up and running while the CPU is off.
… I came up with this idea for a sunlight-readable screen by starting with a transflective process, which was used briefly on cellphones but wasn’t very readable inside or outside (it was very dim) and so was dropped from most products. What I did differently was to put color filters over the transmissive part of the pixel only, instead of the mirror part of the pixel, and I used—get this—a colorless color filter over the rest of the pixel as a spacer.
In a transflective display, part of the pixel is reflective and part of it is transmissive. People think of it as kind of the worst of both worlds, so it hasn’t been that popular. Again, these displays are considered dim, high power, and not that readable.
Each big LCD fab had developed a transflective process, so, I thought, why not use this process and then change the pixel layout by putting a little sliver of a color filter (red, green, or blue) over part of each pixel and then changing the bulk layout of the pixel as well? For best compatibility with minimal image-generation systems, I used diagonal stripes of color so that we would get square-root-of-3 resolution in X and Y in color mode, when compared with the black-and-white (grayscale) resolution. You see, each pixel is black-and-white (grayscale) in reflection and shows a single color in transmission (red, green, or blue when the backlight is on). Strictly speaking, therefore, you get one-third the resolution in color. The human visual system isn’t digital, however. It’s analog and biological, and through this pixel layout we get higher perceived resolution—about 800 by 600 in color. You get all this with a low-cost and low-power TTL (transistor-transistor logic) interface that can be used because the true pixel count is so low. I’m just making the pixels do double or triple duty.
Soon after this interview appeared on ACM Queue Mary Lou Jepsen made the announcement that Higher resolution than we thought – the XO laptop screen [May 28, 2008]
The XO screen has been shown to be higher resolution than we thought. Michiel Klompenhouwer from Philips Research says the color resolution is effectively 984×738, even though strictly speaking straight division indicates color resolution of 692×520 (this is 1/3 of 1200×900 our black&white resolution). We have been saying for some time that the resolution is about 800×600, but his new study shows a more exact way of measuring perceived resolution. Michiel presented an analysis of our screen and other display pixel layouts at the Society for Information Display Annual Meeting this week in Los Angeles in a talk entitled “Comparing the Effective Resolution of Various RGB Subpixel Layouts” SID08.
The XO is the cheapest, least power-hungry notebook computer ever produced, a device that may eventually prove one of the most important educational tools of its time – and for which last year Time magazine named Jepsen one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Along the way, her design sparked a mainstream computing revolution. Jepsen’s primary intention was to “innovate at the bottom of the pyramid”, creating a simple computer for educational use in impoverished areas. But it turned out that computer users in industrialised countries also wanted inexpensive, environmentally friendly laptops. The netbook was born. Just two years after the XO was first released, nearly every major PC brand is selling an inexpensive, low-performance mini-laptop, and analysts predict sales will have reached 50 million by the end of the year. “Every time I meet with the CEO of a big laptop company, they tell me they ‘studied’ my design,” Jepsen has said.
While some could argue that her effort had nothing to do with the birth of netbooks (attributed to Asustek alone) the fact is that Taiwanese companies were intrigued by the idea of a low-cost PC from her 2005 and 2006 attempts with different Taiwanese manufacturers to collaborate. As was described by Ministry of Information (Taiwan) article Small Laptop, Big Splash [April 1, 2008]:
In December 2005, Barry Lam, chairman of Quanta Computer, agreed to manufacture the XO-1. Then, in April 2006, a second Taiwan technology group, Chi Mei Optoelectronics, joined at the urging of the conglomerate’s octogenarian founder and philanthropist, Shi Wen-lung.
… the head of the project at Quanta is Dandy Hsu, general manager and vice president of the company’s Educational Product Business Unit and one of two OLPC board members in Taiwan.
Hsu says bringing the XO-1 to mass production took Quanta nearly two years–an eternity by original design manufacturing /original equipment manufacturing (ODM/OEM) standards.
… Obviously, the XO-1 wasn’t a typical laptop project. “Normally, when we design a commercial notebook, we have Microsoft’s Windows or other software that will run on the device,” Hsu explains. Usually hardware engineers design commercial laptops around the requirements of the marketplace’s dominant operating systems (OS) and application program interfaces (API), then use these for testing as the design work proceeds.
Software was not available for the XO-1 because it was being developed simultaneously by OLPC, which oversaw a team of volunteer engineers designing a Linux-based OS for the XO-1 and writing code for its open source application programs.
… Engineers faced other surprises. In March 2006, when the XO-1 motherboards were ready for testing, OLPC held a “country conference,” which was attended by “delegates” from the governments that intended to purchase the machine. The result was a decision to upgrade the XO-1 with a more powerful CPU. This was no minor modification.
“Change the CPU and you’re talking about a completely new machine,” Hsu says.
Then, later in March, came devastating news. Quanta had recently completed the sale of its subsidiary, Quanta Display, and new owner AU Optronics decided not to manufacture the XO-1 screen, the most critical component of the project.
The XO-1 appeared dead. OLPC’s chief technology officer, Mary Lou Jepsen, disappointed and exhausted from more than a year of intense work for OLPC, left Taiwan for home. Hours later, she was near death as well, having gone into adrenal [mellékvese] failure on the flight to Boston.
In April 2006, two weeks after her illness, Jepsen returned to Taiwan and approached the Chi Mei Group, a Tainan-based conglomerate, to ask if it would manufacture the XO-1’s display.
“Mary Lou is one of the heroes of this project–a selfless, beautiful thing,” says Scott Soong of Chi Mei subsidiary Chi Lin Technology. Soong is the other OLPC board member in Taiwan, along with Quanta’s Dandy Hsu.
… By August 2006, Chi Lin Technology had a working prototype of the XO-1’s dual-mode screen. Jepsen says that without Scott Soong, “the display would not exist. He found ways around the seemingly impassable roadblocks during the design and production process.”
“In the concept, the engineering … we did that fairly quickly; then it was tweaking and tweaking and tweaking,” Soong says.
Later, Chi Mei assembled the Taiwan-made display components at its LCD factories in China.
Another Chi Mei contribution is the plastic housing, the fabulously cheerful green and white material that makes the XO-1 so recognizable.
Summing up, Soong says, “I’ll be honest with you. What Chi Mei has done is build a world-class display nearly at cost. This is not just another project for us. Nobody wanted to let this project down. Everybody went above and beyond to ensure success.”
“That is true for Quanta, and that is true for us,” he says. “And true for all of the other partners.”
From this chronology it is quite visible that OLPC XO-1 had ample publicity for notebook manufacturers of Taiwan to pick the idea, but in not so innovative way (they could not do that either because of intellectual property rights protection). Read the local Taiwanese news article of that time High Time for Low-priced Laptops [Nov 17, 2007] to understand the launch time situation for XO, Asus EeePC, and Intel Classmate (the latter also getting the lead from the OLPC idea).
Follow-up: Pixel Qi and CPT alliance for sunlight readability [Dec 22, 2010]
Follow-up: Pixel Qi’s first big name device manufacturing partner is the extremely ambitious ZTE [Feb 15, 2011]
For the even more industry paradigm changing output from Mary Lou Jepsen’s own company, Pixel Qi, read the following posts in her blog (the posts are in backward chronology):
- DIY Pixel Qi screens – available now! [July 1, 2010]
- Computex Update – Pixel Qi [June 2, 2010]
- Pixel Qi receives SID Display of the Year Award! [May 25, 2010]
- Pixel Qi wins top IEEE award! [April 28, 2010]
- Pilots & Production plus a Nomination [Feb 1, 2010]
- CES [Jan 4, 2010]
- Pixel Qi Starting Production [Dec 7, 2009]
- Screens in Office Lighting, Part 2 [Nov 22, 2009]
- Most screens hard to read on bright office light [Nov 21, 2009]
- Pixel Qi Late? [Oct 28, 2009]
- Pixel Qi Screens debuting in Tablets [Oct 17, 2009]
- Comparing the Pixel Qi screen to others [Aug 26, 2009]
- Pixel Qi is Hiring! [July 29, 2009]
- More videos of our new screen [June 4, 2009]
- Josh Quittner’s Blog post [June 4, 2009]
- Charbax posts some videos of our screens [June 2, 2009]
- Short (very short) video of the screen [June 2, 2009]
- answering the blog [June 1, 2009]
- First pictures of Pixel Qi 3qi screen [May 28, 2009]
- Our first screens out of the fab! [May 24, 2009]
- Samples Due Soon [Apr 23, 2009]
- Netbook and Ebook blur lines [March 16, 2009]
- Product Freeze [Feb 2, 2009]
- Thanksgiving Update from Pixel Qi [Nov 29, 2008]
- Pixel Qi is Hiring [June 6, 2008]
- Upcoming Public Appearances [Apr 16, 2008]
- Traveling… [Apr 16, 2008]
- Pixel Qi is One Month Old [on Feb 2, 2008] [Apr 16, 2008]