At the start of this year I attended a conference in Sydney. There, while kneeling in the back row of a talk on Linux kernel hacking, I saw it with my own eyes for the first time:
The XO-1; laptop of the One Laptop Per Child Organisation. A '$100' laptop for the world's children, enabling them to teach and learn, to explore, experiment and express themselves. Read more about that at laptop.org.
Being an Electrical Engineering student means I have a keen interest in the hardware side of comptuers, as well as software. I found the XO fascinating in both these aspects, and wanted to learn more. The first step was taken when I was given a beta - a test version - of the laptop by Jim Gettys, who works for OLPC on it's software systems. The second step was taken when I applied to work for OLPC through the Google Summer of Code.
The Summer of Code is a project where Google sponsors students from around the world to work on Free and Open Source Software; Firefox, Linux and OpenOffice are all examples of FOSS. Not only could students apply to work on pieces of software, but they could also work for organisations who used this software, such as the BBC, Nokia (through maemo) and, interestingly for me; OLPC.
I am thrilled to be given the chance to work for OLPC, to be mentored by the LCD-inventing, Electrical Engineering degree holding CTO of OLPC; Mary Lou Jepsen, as well as Richard Smith; an engineer who works on the low level programming of the laptop's systems.Working along side me will be Rafael Enrique Ortiz Guerrero, a fellow Electrical Engineering student from Colombia.
My project is to revolve around the power systems of the XO laptop, specifically the gang chargers - large recharging units that can replenish up to 16 laptop batteries at once, running off mains or solar power by the way of an internal lead-acid battery. I will also work on the 'tinderbox'; an XO laptop with it's insides hanging out, connected to a multichannel voltmeter that logs the power usage on the XO's power rails.
Since being accepted into the SoC, I have been offered an internship at OLPC headquarters on MIT's campus in Boston, Massachusetts. I will join the team for three months, starting this July, thanks to the sponsorship of OLPC, and Google's Open Source Programs Office. I am still short on funds, so if you would like to support a young Australian free and open source software contributor and advocate, please get in touch.
I look forward to not only the technical challenges that this experience will provide, but also the humanitarian aspect. A good friend once told me she almost chose to study medicine over engineering, because she wanted to help people who were disadvantaged around the world and believed that being a doctor was the only way to do this. However, she decided that through her civil engineering degree, she could ”build bridges” for those who needed help. Like her, I would have never thought that an engineering degree, in particular one that focused on electronics, could enable me to do similar things; this is one of the many fascinating aspects of the OLPC project.
I plan on updating everyone back home on my progress while working at MIT; if you're interested, I have a blog: Welcome to Chaos.