OLPC: The Alameda Connection

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OLPC, aka One Laptop Per Child is a non-profit project with a goal to provide 100 million laptops over the next couple years to school kids in the developing world. To put this in perspective, 100m is double today’s annual laptop production!

For a project of this size and scope, the design logistics are staggering. Given that the intended audience is predominantly located in the developing world, providing a reliable source of electricity to operate the laptop becomes of paramount importance. One of the solutions being implemented was designed by a local Alameda design firm: Squid Labs, which has since spun off a separate company (Potenco) to commercialize the product.

Their solution? Yo-Yo A Go-Go!

A microgenerator powered by a pull string, similar to the assembly used to start a lawn mower. The user holds the yo-yo—a separate accessory about the size of two hockey pucks stacked together—in her left hand, grips a handle in her right, and pulls a meter-long cord. The cord spins a fine shaft at roughly 2000 revolutions per minute. An embedded microcontroller adjusts the flow of power to the battery so that the generator operates at maximum efficiency, even while the generator speed slows as the child’s arm tires out.

The designers expect adults and children 12 and older to be able to produce 20W using this generator for short periods of time and 10W for longer periods.

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