Joel Stanley's OLPC Job: Baking and Breaking Invincible XO-1


Image yourself as 21-year-old Australian Joel Stanley, who not only snagged a coveted Google Summer of Code (GSoC) spot, he is spending his internship at One Laptop Per Child's Cambridge headquarters developing "gang charger" power systems for the XO-1 laptop.

While he's lucky to be designing one of the OLPC Products, the gang charger units will recharge multiple XO laptops at one time via grid, solar, or other power source, I don't think that's the coolest part of his day.

cooking olpc xo computer
Cooking clock-stopping hot XO's

I say its baking OLPC's with Arjun Sarual in a food warming oven. Walter Bender reports that:

The oven is large enough to house eight fully opened XOs and allows us to examine the behavior of the laptops under temperatures ranging from a warm 40°C, up to a toasty 60°C and above.

Some preliminary tests were conducted, examining the operation of the battery charging systems under the extreme heat that may be encountered by, say, a laptop sitting in full sunlight.

One motivation for this testing is that the NiMH batteries that are used in some of the XOs lose the ability to be charged above 55°C. (The newer LiFePO4 technology allows charging above these temperatures, for when the need arises.)

We are pleased to report the XOs ran flawlessly in the extreme heat, even when the oven's unpredictable thermostat inadvertently allowed the temperature to reach 68°C.

Yet you might think that Joel has an even cooler job in XO computer maintenance. There he does bug fixes on damaged laptops and probably helps with the "free drop" testing, passing out abuse-my-XO awards when:
broken olpc xo screen
XO laptop display drop test failure?
The units are dropped on all corners, all side bumpers, and front and back. Initially, we had dropped onto plywood, but this spring we made the test tougher: we have been dropping on a hard steel plate, with and without a carpet.

B4 units pass a 150cm 10-point drops onto a carpet-covered steel plate; a 105cm simulated slanted-desk "slide" onto a steel plate; and a 80cm 10-point free drop onto a steel plate. The laptop, when dropped on the antennas, withstands a 150cm drop.

To put these data into perspective: a standard laptop only passes a 45cm 10-point drop on plywood (a much softer material than steel).

OLPC News co-founder Jon Camfield gives a further perspective on the indestructibility of the OLPC XO Btest-4:
My desk measures about 70cm to the floor, so I could throw my laptop from my desk and it could land on a steel plate and be OK. Not having a hard drive I imagine makes that a lot easier, but LCDs are pretty fragile beasts, so that's mightily impressive.

I should see about getting a test unit sent to a former boss of mine who one backed over a laptop in his SUV (laptop functionally survived, sans LCD) for some additional stress testing....

Add to that, in this presentation of a BTest-3 to OLPC Peru participants and press, Walter Bender explains that the bottom half of the XO computer can be dumped in water. The keyboard is waterproof, so a child working outdoors in the rain is okay.
So as Jon says, though we complain about the lack of implementation planning and pilot projects quite often here at OLPCNews, it is important to step back and look at what the OLPC Foundation has gotten not just right, but impressively spot-on with the help of talented staff and volunteers like Joel Stanley: the XO technology, and specifically today, the laptop's ability to withstand drops and heat beyond the capacity of mortal computers.

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Walter Bender reports that OLPC bake testing is still going strong:

Environmental testing: Four XOs have been running in an oven at temperatures above 45C for a continuous period of 6 days; they are running perfectly. This test is more extreme than real-life conditions, where at night the temperature generally goes down.

A room humidifier has been placed in the oven, where is has been running continuously. None of the XOs show any problem.

"Posted on August 10, 2007 by Wayan Vota"

Ooh, what's the future like? Can I get my jetpack/flying car/commercial OLPC soon?

I'm glad you read OLPC News that close Optic. I've changed the date - today's news is posted today

Environmental testing is a 'must do' step in developing any product expected to be used in a harsh environment.

We regularly subject our products here at the factory to 70C temperatures just to see what fails first. Of course our products have an above ambient of around 30 degrees C so we normally dont go above 60C in the oven (resulting in 90C internal temperatures).

I'd be very worried about heating batteries up to 60C if they are in a charge cycle.

Just wondering: have they tried a kick test? Putting one XO-1 in a backpack with some padding and start kicking it? I remember we used to do that with some backpacks when school staff took away our ball.

The tests are quite impressive, so most probably it will survive, but still.

"don't think that's the coolest part of his day."

Actually, I'll bet that the bake test is probably the hottest part of his day...

And with my poor Dell Laptop on its third fan replacement and now sans thermistor, I wouldn't mind a 60C ambient-temp, still-operating laptop myself. :(

Computers, generally, are very robust... We recently had a machine room air conditioning failure where I work (it ran in reverse, pumping hot moist air into the room). Our 40 Intel Xeon and 8 G5 Mac servers survived for 24 hours at 90C! We only had to replace two network switches when everything eventually cooled down.

XO's might get baked in Cambridge, but they will not bake users legs:

Laptop on your lap: XO is the first “laptop” that can safely be used on one's lap. Most laptops are officially called notebook computers, because use on a lap is unsafe—you risk burning your skin.

Not so with the XO; it is so low power that the electronics don't get hot; and further, the electronics are next to the screen, not the lap. The plastic in the keyboard area stays cool all the time.

More OLPC physical testing results from Community News:

Summarized below is the current status of resistance testing of the XO laptop. Mary Lou Jepsen will write a complete report in early November, after all testing data is available. (This report will be available on )

* Drop: XO passes 10-point drop test from a height of 150cm onto carpet- covered steel (other drop-test details available)
* Operating temperature: 0C to 45C (50C pending certification)
* Storage temperature : –25C to 60C
* Operational altitude: 0 to 5000m
* Dust/water: Testing to Ingress Protocol 54 and 42 (in process)
* Toxicity: RoHS certified (UL report due in early November)

* Safety:
o IEC 60950-1(write up in process)
o EN 60950-1 (write up in process)
o CSA/UL 60950-1 (write up in process)
o ASTM F 963 – Electronic Toy Safety (write up in process)

* AC adapter
o Wide input range: 90v(–10%) ~ 240v(+25%), 35Hz to 70Hz
o IEC 60950-1 (write up in process)
o EN 60950-1 (write up in process)
o CSA/UL 60950-1 (write up in process)
o Extra transient and burst immunity: IEC 61000-4-4 (passed)
o Extra surge immunity: IEC 61000-4-5 (passed)

* Keyboard
o Tested to 500,000 cycles
o Rubber: water and dust resistant

* Buttons (power, display rotate, gamepads): Tested to 500,000 cycles

Who wouldn't like to have a job like that? Although it isn't such a easy one, I am sure that it is worth it.