OLPC Sending XO Laptops to Haiti, Critics Say 'Don't Bother'

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 18, 2010

The non-profit organization One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) plans to send XO laptops to earthquake-ravaged Haiti to bolster communication efforts among rescuers. According to eWeek Europe, OLPC wants "free ruggedized XO Laptops running Linux (with Wi-Fi, browser, kids’ learning activities and a whole lot more) to go to to aid/reconstruction groups who quickly explain to us their need."

OLPC representatives are working with humanitarian agencies and reconstruction groups to send a limited number of laptops wherever they're needed, but not everyone is convinced it's a good idea.

OLPC News publisher Wayan Vota says XO laptops won't feed or clothe the hungry, nor will they help victims start their lives over again. Vota admits the laptops are a fantastic tool for education but the very tools that make the laptops perfect for school will work against rescue efforts in the long run.

Mesh networking, for instance, is still an unreliable technology that often requires highly skilled techs to keep it up and running -- something that is in short supply in Haiti at the moment. The unit's low-power processor and Sugar user interface aren't very helpful either since the former relies on an available power source to stay charged and the latter is a clunky UI that's hard to work with under the best of circumstances.

Vota goes on to say that even if those obstacles can be overcome, deploying XOs throughout the country will be a logistical nightmare. Furthermore, the unit's native documentation and community-building tools will be rendered largely irrelevant in a disaster zone.

"If you want an XO laptop to have impact, if you want One Laptop Per Child Haiti to succeed, wait one year from now," says Vota. "When the crisis journalists have left, when emergency crews are gone, and the long, slow rebuilding process truly starts with Haitian-invested organizations like Waveplace Foundation .

"For Haitians and OLPC supporters, the real XO impact is not today, its next year, its the next decade, its when the next generation of Haitian children can learn and explore with XO laptops, with only distant memories of disasters -- man-made and natural -- long past."