XO Helicopter Deployments? Nicholas Negroponte Must be Crazy!

olpc xo-bombing afghanistan

After 5 years of following One Laptop Per Child on a daily basis, I have come to the conclusion that Nicholas Negroponte must be crazy. That is the only way I can explain his continued insistence on pursuing implementation miracles with his "Gods Must be Crazy" deployment plans.

How else could he disregard thought leaders who all agree that ICT should only be 10% of a solution - that infrastructure, maintenance, content, community, teacher training, and evaluation should command more attention and resources than XO laptops? We've certainly pointed out that the OLPC model fails at a large scale, while the inclusive model succeeds.

But why believe us? Nicholas can read independent studies that confirm XO laptop-only programs fail or look at OLPC's own showcase pilot failures.

And yet he is still talking about dropping XO laptops from the sky. Just listen to him at the United Nations Social Innovation Summit 2011 at around the 1 hour mark:

So you've got a hundred and fifty to two hundred million kids [not going to first grade], and so here's the question: Can you, either literally or metaphorically, drop out of a helicopter, which is exactly what we plan to do, with tablets into village, where there is no school, but there's kids, at least eight to ten kids?

And then go back a year later - are they reading? And if the answer is yes, that would be transformational. Then people might pay more attention. And then it would apply to places where there are schools, so on and so forth.

Has Nicholas not yet learned that this model does not work? Does he have to see the discarded XO laptops himself? Or will he get his wish and see a million XO's falling from the sky across Afghanistan? XO brain bombs full of misplaced hope.


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This is certainly one of those "you've got to be F'ing kidding me" moments.
He is definitely a very intelligent man but this does raise questions about his touch with reality. At this point I think he is mentally orbiting the planet.

A more probable thought is that this is another attempt to bring attention back to his failing project, not that he would ever say anything to create false hope and media attention [insert sarcastic laughter here]

At the very least his statements and this article gave me a chuckle :)

We all know Negroponte is crazy. Crazies make things happen. You my friend is having a slow news day. Instead of wasting time on making silly pictures with helicopter, do some good work and report on something useful.

You may want to change the background of your site to yellow.

The better question is: why are you still taking Negroponte seriously?

He knows his project is dead, like every other prject he ever managed, and needs to make outrageous claims to see if he can generate a bit of attention. Nothing else.

I met with Nicholas and his staff at MIT when they were in the midst of developing the $100 Laptop (wasn't called OLPC then). I was working on a completely different project, but we talked about this for a while. It was a big dream and I was skeptical, but I wanted to believe he could pull it off.

My big concern was content and when I brought that up to them it was kind of an afterthought. I was working for a content company and was very surprised at the lack of vision on that front. I think he thought people would come in and run with it on that front. I think the timing was bad and other technologies just detracted from this.

The same thing happens regularly on a smaller scale in schools/Districts in the US and abroad.

Mr. Negropante is a good man. I think some of the players around him lacked the horsepower to make this happen, while at the same time he had tunnel vision and just wanted cheap hardware out there.

There is a new NN video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WrwQ5b0cy8
Within his usual pet-talk there are some interesting points.
From 2:00-4:00 explains his position of laptops vs School/teachers...
At 14:00-15:00 has some info on the XO tablet and its solar panel.
An then from 15:00 on, explains the actual "helicopter drop" that is going to be an actual EXPERIMENT!!!
Interesting ;)

It's worth keeping in mind that there are two different projects which Nicolas is working on these days. There's what most of you will think of as "OLPC", which involves millions of XO-1/XO-1.5/XO-1.75 machines being distributed through national departments of education and other means. This is ongoing, and hasn't changed (although the price and performance of the machines have steadily improved).

There's also a literacy project, which is orthogonal to the continuing "traditional" OLPC deployments. The literacy project is being done with Sugata Mitra, Maryanne Wolfe, Cynthia Breazeal, the United Nations, and other respected folk. It targets places which *don't* have departments of education or schools; none of the infrastructure a traditional OLPC deployment relies on. The literacy project isn't even using OLPC hardware at the moment, although we hope to have them use XO-3 hardware when it becomes available. The literacy project is where the "flinging laptops from helicopters" figures-of-speech come from, and Sugata Mitra has done quite a bit of respected work in this field previously (his "Hole in the Wall" projects).

Hopefully this information will help place these stories in proper context.


Is there any place to learn more about the Literacy Project you mentioned? I'm running a small ngo in Poland working in rural areas. Sugata's experiments bring interesting results that we would like to use within our organization and the small rural schools. A combination of work of Mr. Negroponte and Mr. Mitra sounds thrilling... Appreciate any information.

Hi Nicholas and all,
Not sure dropping them is a good idea---no opinion on that based on good facts---BUT, if you're going to drop them anyway, aim for 4*52'04 N and 2*14'26 W. I have "catchers" all positioned right there!!I think it would turn out great, with the kids and the elders.
Maryanne Ward
Ghana Together

The Hole-in-the-wall was one of those ideas that, among other things, may have achieved the following:

Demonstrated that what a 2 year old child can achieve in the US and other rich economies, can also be done by the underprivileged children of 12 to 15 years olds in the slums of India.

It gained "respectability" because those privileged do not usually believe that the poor may have capabilities similar to them.

As a research project that can find funders, it may be a perfectly legitimate pursuit and nothing that we can object to while having and sharing differing views.

What is intriguing is what gives Wayan Vota the right to mock people who have contributed so hugely just because he can create a forum with a site and a few thousand people join it.

He should be welcome to express his views with respect towards someone he is opining against.

With all the eccentricities, arrogance and other aspects of his personality he is known for his exceptional ability to lead, guide and fund research that hugely contributes to the development of technologies we see decades later.

Even if I had to disagree with him, I will do so by acknowledging his contributions and with due respect.

I wish he appreciated that even religion had to be marketed and nurtured.

His desire to not use market mechanisms, do what markets cannot are very noble or idealistic and the frustrations of not expanding because of that is his to savour.

If only he agreed to raise funds to market it as well, create enough funds through the agencies he knows to make 10,000 children have access to OLPC in a region in every country he is interested in, he may make much greater a difference in the immediate term.

But he is an academic and not a professional manager and therefore may not like to behave as one and that may be the reason much greater than all that Wayan may have put together.