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OLPC gets funding from Marvell to develop low cost tablet – XO 3

OLPC XO-3 tablet to be built on Marvell Moby tablet platform

OLPC XO 3 Tablet

Marvell has just officially partnered with the One Laptop per Child Foundation, and will be providing it with $5.6 million to help further the development of a new tablet computer. Nicholas Negroponte, the man behind OLPC, says: “Their money is a grant to the OLPC Foundation to develop a tablet or tablets based on their chip.”

Called the XO 3 tablet as it represents the third generation of the XO laptop, the new tablet will be based on the Armada System-on-Chip (SoC) that will be provided by Marvell, feature a Pixel Qi low power display that is also flexible, and is slated for a 2012 release. Marvell and OLPC will also be showing another tablet at CES 2011, one meant for children of the developed world, which will not feature the OLPC brand name.

OLPC’s take on computing systems targeted at developing nations have forced many to re-think their notion of designing computers. After having tasted success with their ‘One Laptop Per Child’ project, OLPC has now turned their attention to test waters in the fast emerging Tablet PC segment. And for this, they have entered into a partnership with Marvell to develop a Tablet PC that has been named OLPC XO-3 in a bid to speed up the process. Though initial reports are however pointing towards a device that would be a far cry from the sci-fi tablet that it was promised to be and is more based on reality.

It was in December last when the world first got to know of the XO-3 and back then, it was conceptualized as a tablet pc with some dream features. Like it would have a super thin frame with a touchscreen display measuring 8.5 x 11 inches. The tablet will also be encased within a water resistant layer and will boast of an inductive charging system. The new tablets are touted to be based on Marvell’s Moby platform that was unveiled in March though whether it will be able to live up to the lofty goals is anybody’s guess. Well, the doubt factors has its root in the fact that the Moby platform is more conventional in its approach and might not end up delivering all that has been fancied.

What OLPC has revealed till now is that the new tablet will have the facility for video input and will have multi-touch interfaces along with USB support for, what the company claims as ‘traditional and non-traditional peripherals.’

Moby also comes with other niceties such as HDMI out, an integrated camera, compatibility with Flash, along with its ability to support operating systems like Android, WinMo and Linux. Moby too is able to deliver 1080p HD video encode/decode though it may not be a necessity for the specific purpose that the tablet has been envisaged for. On the other hand, it’s a rather longish battery life that might be called upon more along with advanced connectivity options like WiFi, Bluetooth, FM or maybe even GPS. OLPC has pegged power consumptions to be around 1 watt by the time the tablet is ready, which takes care of its intended far flung areas of operation. Also, Marvell’s OLPC XO-3 has a 1 GHz, Marvell ARMADA™ 610 application processor.

The company aims to price the tablet around the $100 ballpark and was initially expected slated for a 2012 release. But the latest that we have indicate development work has been pushed up and an all out effort is currently on to bring in the tablet this year itself.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has partnered with hardware component maker Marvell to create a new tablet device, and a prototype based on a Marvell reference design is expected to arrive next year. OLPC says that the new tablet will consume significantly less power than its current XO laptop.

OLPC was launched with the aim of bringing low-cost portable computers and constructivist education to students in developing countries. The project has been plagued with problems and declined in relevance as cheap netbooks and alternatives like Intel’s Classmate PC reached the market. OLPC suffered from rising costs, production delays, manufacturing defects, deployment failures, logistical issues, and leadership challenges.

The organization made significant staff cuts last year after its “Give 1 Get 1” program collapsed, discontinued development of its software platform, and gave up on its plans to develop a new dual-touchscreen model that was supposed to look like a book.

Former OLPC software chief Walter Bender split from the group and founded Sugar Labs to continue independently advancing the OLPC software platform. The efforts of his group have brought OLPC’s Sugar learning environment to a broader audience and attracted new contributors.

OLPC itself has largely remained quiet over the past year, but founder Nicholas Negroponte has spoken on several occasions about the possibility of moving the organization’s mission forward by building a low-cost tablet. Partnering with a Marvell and building on an existing reference design will likely simplify the process of getting a finished product out the door.

“Today’s learning environments require robust platforms for computation, content creation and experimentation—and all that at a very low cost,” Negroponte said in a statement. “Through our partnership with Marvell, OLPC will continue our focus on designing computers that enable children in the developing world to learn through collaboration, as well as providing connectivity to the world’s body of knowledge.”

OLPC has also apparently softened its stance on a few other issues. For example, the group is no longer insisting its hardware partners work solely with it if they were pursuing similar projects, an untenable position that was largely responsible for its falling out with Intel. According to Marvell, several commercial hardware vendors will be building their own similar tablets based on the same reference design.

Marvell has launched a new initiative called Mobylize to draw attention to the e-learning potential of its “Moby” reference design. The Mobylize Web site touts classroom-based apps, electronic textbooks, and digital lesson plans as the future of education.

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