One OLPC XO Technology Per Military Warfighter

army olpc
OLPC-enabled military?!

Thinking about the multitude of OLPC technologies that could be commercialized for profit, I read the following Request for Proposal that World War E found with great interest:

develop intelligent autonomous radio relay nodes that exploit movement to establish and manage mesh networks in urban settings. The goal is to create small, inexpensive, smart robotic radio relay nodes that dismounted warfighters drop as they deploy in urban settings.

The nodes then self-configure and form a mesh network – a temporary infrastructure that establishes communications over the region. As the situation changes, the nodes will adapt the network, such as self-healing if nodes are destroyed by the enemy (DARPA 2007, 3-4).

Yes, you read that right, "warfighters" is a nice euphemism for military soldiers and DARPA is the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the US military's research arm, and the RFP sounds perfect for the FCC approved OLPC mesh networking.

Now I have no clue if One Laptop Per Child or Quanta, the FCC WiFi registrant, will respond to DARPA with OLPC bunny ears or cheap mesh repeaters, but its an odd thought: technology developed for children's education being employed by the US army to communicate on the battlefield.

Odd, but not new. Lee Felsenstein worried about OLPC-enabled youth gangs and Michael de la Maza saw the power of military mesh networking in his Guerrilla Warfare and the OLPC post on the OLPC Wiki.

I worry about a more direct technology transfer. I worry that in OLPC's mad rush to reach its $100 dollar laptop goal, or under pressure from its Intel board member, it will license XO computer technology too far and too wide and feel a whole different form of laptop blowback.

I do not want to see One Laptop Per Warfighter. Not in my army, your navy, or anyone's marine corps. Let them settle scores like children do, with sticks and stones, not with OLPC-enabled death and destruction.

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It could get even better: what about USA soldiers in Iraq handing out XO's to little kids, so that schools are no longer needed?

What about using the revolutionary "hot clock-stopping" technology (whatever that means) for relaying TV shows to be watched in tiny ultra-light screens licensing the new OLPC screen technology?

C'mon, Wayan, use a bit of common sense.

To begin with, why are you assuming that ANY misguided attempt by Negroponte to generate money has to come as a result of Intel putting pressure on him?

The facts are quite simple: Intel DID NOT force its way into a chair in the OLPC board. It takes two to tango, and if you want to be remotely objective, you should be spending your time asking the obvious question:

Why did Negroponte decide to go to bed with "the devil" (Intel)?

I have not seen a simple, clear answer to that question. All the Negroponte sycophants who spent months vilifying Intel for creating the Classmate went silent or came up with absurd excuses for the "marriage". They, quite expectedly, don't see anything wrong in Negroponte joining forces with an "enemy" who (according to them) never had the kids' best interests in mind.


Wow, Troy, you're pretty good at coming up with one angle, this time its Intel + OLPC, and polluting every post with simple-logic comments about it.

In the comment above, only your first sentence had anything to do with my post on OLPC technology in the military. The rest belongs here:

Stay on topic or I'll ban you yet again.

Troops handing out OLPC's in Iraq is an interesting idea. It would certainly give Negroponte an orders boost, but would the Iraqi people accept the OLPC? I think not, unless there was a targeted OLPC cultural integration plan:

A process to identify the XO computer with education, not Western imperialism or worse, a Trojan Horse.

In fact, dropping bunches of XO could serve in many ways:
1- It would create a mesh network as they dropped.

2-The population would steal them maybe faster than the enemy militia, keeping it for themselves (probably somewhere safer, but in the area). This keeps the network active, as well as creates a safekeeper for every node.

3-It serves as the propaganda pamphlets that the US military deploys. The XO could ocme connected directly to youtube, therefore all looters would be instantly put in contact with the best of the western freedom, in the shape of viral videos of fat kids.

4-In the long end it could help to create a free culture and a education revolution that would eliminate poverty and the reasons for war.

5-Done. War is won.

This is part a joke of course. But then, wayan, when you open source something you are not allowed to be against ANY use for it..

Alas, Wayan, you can't pick and choose where a technology goes. The best I've been able to come up with is to design it into products that work really well for your intended purpose, attract enough attention from geeks that the inner workings are not a secret, and gain enough of a market share that they are available in multiple forms.

The big set of problems in fielding a technology as socially useful lies in minimizing the power inequalities that can result. Since technology often grants power, the solution is to make the technology impossible to concentrate in a few hands.

This is why I wrote to warn about OLPC technology (specifically, mesh networking at low cost) and criminal gangs - the problem was not the existence of the technology but the imbalance between technology available to one sector of society as versus another sector.

In that example, the solution would be to make sure that civil authority also has the communications technology in the kids' hands. My scenario was predicated upon the kids alone having the tools to stay well ahead of the adults.

Nothing you say or do will prevent the mesh network technology from being used for military, commercial, religious, frivolous, or educational use. You might consider creating myths attached to the technology - such as that its use casts aspersion upon one's sexual potency ("it's for kids", after all). Myths are often the most powerful social motivating forces (beneath economics). Powerful, but not definitive.

At least this exonerates you from being in bed with Intel in a conspiracy to tar OLPC; now you're obviously a secret double agent trying to undermine Intel. (/sarcasm)

Come on. Mesh networking predates OLPC by a decade or three.


In real life the United States Army and Marines currently use the Panasonic Toughbook 19. One advantage of being in touch with rural America is that there are many Military bases. They use Panasonic Toughbooks to access the Global Information Grid.

"The Toughbook 19 was designed using the military’s MIL-STD-810 test procedures that measure equipment durability under harsh conditions – and it passed with flying colors. And the Toughbook 30 is the first notebook to deliver fixed mount screen brightness – 1000 Nit – in a portable computer, for unparalleled outdoor readability.

Test Procedures

- Drop Test - Vibration - Water-Resistance
- Humidity - Dust-Resistance - High Temperature
- Low Temperature - Thermal Shock - Altitude
Test Challenge

Each Panasonic Toughbook® is designed and manufactured to meet a level of durability matched to an intended work environment. The range of Toughbooks cover the ruggedized Toughbook 19, Toughbook 30, Wireless Display, and include models with selected durability features like the remaining semi-rugged models.

At the very least, each Toughbook features a magnesium alloy LCD case, 20 times stronger than ABS plastic, to protect this critical and expensive-to-replace component. Other models include full magnesium cases to protect all system components. Hard disk drives are equipped with various degrees of shock insulation to protect mission-critical data from the dangers of shocks, bumps and drops. Some Toughbooks also offer spill-resistant keyboards to provide protection from the spills and splashes that are a frequent part of mobile computing environments.

Our most rugged Toughbooks have been designed using MIL-STD-810F test procedures to measure levels of environmental reliability. Created by the U.S. government, the MIL-STD-810F specifications cover a broad range of tests that measure the durability of equipment used under harsh conditions. From the MIL-STD-810F test menu, Panasonic selected those that most closely reflect the challenges that mobile professionals face in the field, on the road, and in the office. These tests include drop-, shock-, moisture-, dust- and vibration-resistance, exposure to extremely low and high temperatures, and many others.

Passed the Test
And even though Panasonic conducts these environmental tests in our own factories with our own equipment, we didn't stop there. After we finished our in-house tests on the ruggedized Toughbook 19, Toughbook 30, and Wireless Display, we gave it to one of the leading independent environmental test agencies in the United States to repeat all of the tests again. In the end, the results confirmed our own: the Toughbook 19, Toughbook 30 and Wireless display passed all challenges without failure.

Testing Procedures
And while not every Toughbook is designed to be as ultra-rugged as the Toughbook 19, Toughbook 30 or Wireless Display, tests like the MIL-STD-810F help us to understand how to design all of our Toughbooks with the best focus on durability features for the type of user and work conditions. The information below describes the tests we use to measure Toughbook durability."

ToughBook 19 - got one, my toddler uses it (no OLPC available), we love it.

I am just pointing out that the USA's Dept of Defense has had OLPC type tech for years.
"To ensure a consistent "Defense-in-Depth" implementation across component systems of the GIG, IA architectural concepts must ultimately be translated into specific architecture guidance, IA standards and protocols, technical requirements, and policy. This applies to existing, emerging, and future system development efforts such as the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), GIG Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE), Intelligence Community System for Information Sharing (ICSIS), Transformational Communications (TC), and other programs supporting the GIG vision.

The implementation must allow both human users of the GIG, and automated services acting on behalf of GIG users, to access information and services from anywhere, based on need and capability. Information must be labeled and also cataloged using metadata, allowing users to search and retrieve the information required to fulfill their mission under a "smart-pull" and information management model. This requires the GIG to know where the information is posted and to recognize who the user is, regardless of location. System access will be available regardless of location; however, access to information will be restricted based on the threat inherent to that location. IA will enforce user privileges and access to the information in addition to providing mechanisms so that the information can be trusted as coming from its claimed source. These mechanisms also will ensure that information is unaltered during processing, storage, and transport. Ultimately, the GIG must enhance the capability to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information-a Net-Centric approach-while inhibiting or denying an adversary's ability to do the same."

I could also imagine that the OLPC XO and solar powered repeaters could be very attractive mainly to guerilla armies in the 3rd world. It would be cheap if stolen from children. It would fantastically support hit and run tactics of independently operating small units that could coordinate their attacks. It would be independent from a power grid and tough for usage in the field. With small parabolic antennae (modified wok would do, see Stan Swan's it could increase the range to dozens of kilometers.

All depends, however, on the effectiveness of the built-in security. I heard that a stolen XO would deactivate if it is not reactivated by some authority (the school teacher?). However, what's that security worth if that school teacher has a gun barrel pointing to his head?

Does anyone know more about XO's security system concerning this scenario?


Here are the specs for the official and alternative OLPC security. Below is quote from the official "Bitfrost" website:

"This author finds the discussion of antitheft machinery in these sections so complex that he is unable to assess countermeasures that an attacker might take to defeat the scheme. It is also unclear whether this proposal can meet the threat that this author considers most likely, namely, theft not by the mafia or random burglars, but rather theft by high-ranking government officials. How robust is this scheme if the Deputy Secretary of Education is a member of the gang? "

Official Security:
Bitfrost is the OLPC security platform. A non-technical introduction to the security problems we're attempting to solve, and our goals and principles in doing so, follow on this page. They're taken from the complete Bitfrost specification (or the local wiki version), which we invite you to peruse and discuss on the public OLPC security mailing list.


An alternative anti-theft mechanism for OLPC


Below is quote from the official Bitfost website:
"This author finds the discussion of antitheft machinery in these sections so complex that he is unable to assess countermeasures that an attacker might take to defeat the scheme. It is also unclear whether this proposal can meet the threat that this author considers most likely, namely, theft not by the mafia or random burglars, but rather theft by high-ranking government officials. How robust is this scheme if the Deputy Secretary of Education is a member of the gang?

History suggests that complex security schemes favor the attacker: the greater the complexity, the larger the number of countermeasure opportunities afforded the attack. As a minimum, the "one hour before retrying activation" seems more hostile to the intended users than to the attacker: the intended users will probably have limited skills at handling the needed security machinery, and a one-hour retry period may cause them to give up before succeeding. This author suggests development of a second description of this system, from the human perspective, i.e., examining the user interface at each step (not just the software user interface, the system user interface) and assessing whether the skill levels of the people responsible are adequate to the tasks. If the user interfaces are too complex, not only will it open sociologically-based attacks, but it may make the whole olpc program fail out-of-the-box, as it is discovered during deployment that few people can actually bring the laptops all the way up through activation. If analysis of the system user interface suggests complexity risk, perhaps it would be better to adopt the strategies used by shippers of bulk quantities of cell phones, which is perhaps the best available analogy. "

Robert Lane: I saw your post, if you're the Robert (Bobby) Lane that used to work at the Vet School, please email me at [email protected] I need to get in touch with you.


Nobody helps more children worldwide than the United States Military. Nobody.

I'm not going to argue it out in your comments--I can hear you beginning to muster several arguments as I type. But if you're interested, please do a little research. You may be surprised.

I helped deliver materials to build over 300 houses in East Timor after the predictably horrific results of a United Nations referendum on independence, which was (predictably) poorly planned and poorly executed. I received a "Navy and Marine Corps Humanitarian Service Medal" for my incredibly minor part in the ensuing humanitarian mission, and it is the decoration I am most proud of. And I have several. I bet you didn't know that the Department of the Navy even had such a medal. Okay, now you do.

And trust me--the military is not clamoring to get its hands on any OLPC technology. It is, however providing it through technology transfer programs. Who do you think is on the other side of the fence at almost every University-affiliated research project?

Have a Nice Day, brought to you in part by the Armed Forces of the United States.

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