We at Vert Design are incredibly excited to be working with One Education on their new project, XO-infinity. I had personally been a long time admirer of the One Laptop Per Child project and had studied the work that Yves Behar and the team at FuseProject did on its original release, all those years ago whilst at University. As soon as I heard about One Education’s new project, I jumped at the chance to get involved.
The intent from the outset was to create an educational tool with a lifetime equivalent to a child’s education and beyond.
To create a system that was simple & durable enough for a 4-year-old, whilst possessing the ability to grow in power & functionality alongside the child’s personal development.
When this vision of a near future was explained, current developments in modular technology jumped out to us as an exciting opportunity. What if we could create a device that served the world of laptops in the same way that PhoneBlocks or Project Ara is attempting with smartphones? Not only would the product be infinitely upgradeable, but it would also help to accommodate maintenance issues that have contributed a considerable hindrance to OLPC over the years.
To begin this project, we needed a better understanding of how the current version of the XO laptop was being used in the real world. A trip to a local school was organised where students are using the XO-duo laptops in their classrooms…
A few key lessons from our trip:
1. Antennas are the most commonly broken item and once broken, they had to be sent off to be repaired. The playful motion by which they were designed, has turned out to be their downfall as the kids love to flick them back and forth, inevitably leading to part failure. Moving parts like this are to be avoided in our project, where possible.
2. Other elements, such as screens and batteries, are also prone to failure after time in the classroom and across the playground. The more modularity we can introduce the more robust and repairable it comes. Additional modular elements will add to the unit cost so an appropriate balance will have to be evaluated.
3. The kids frequently used their computers on their laps. In this position, the camera is in the wrong location and the keyboard is too small. The handle structure of the base creates a flat, comfortable platform to rest on their lap, whilst also playing a key role in balance of the device. If possible, this handle should be incorporated into the new design
4. Power and storage within the classroom is currently a mess. A simple, neat system that encourages its use is essential.
5. The kids loved the idea of being able to customise their devices. There are multiple opportunities for us to explore here.
These observations helped form our design brief for the XO-infinity.
Whilst generating concepts for the XO-infinity, we needed a modular design that allowed the device to grow with the child, we needed to solve the usability issues, and we needed to do so in a package that was easy-to-use and exceptionally robust.
Our inspiration for the modular design came from the old Nintendo-style cartridges that worked via a very simple plug & play action.
This would allow the child to easily disconnect or attach the components and didn’t require any intricate pieces that would be prone to breaking when dropped.
Alongside the team at One Education and International suppliers, a suitable components list was drawn up as a starting point. With this information, we began modelling the required electronics into our model and modified our product configuration to suit.
Moving from a Virtual model to a Physical model taught us a few things…
Learnings from Prototype One
- We found that the handle was oversized making the product too bulky. The intent was to potentially include a secondary battery pack in the handle, but we will have to forget about this as the impact on the product is just too big.
- The device is top-heavy so careful attention to balancing is essential.
- Additional focus will be required on rib structures to increase structural integrity.
With the lessons from the first prototype, we are making a number of modifications to the device.
The handle has been modified to be much smaller and is now better suited to a child’s hand (see rendered images below.) Blue foam models have been produced to visualise this scale and shape, and we are currently in the process of taking this around schools to ensure that we have desirable scale and proportions. There’s no substitute for context-based testing of physical models!
Flexibility serves Innovation
To accommodate innovation we, as a design agency, must be open to change. New developments are likely to come from all angles, whether it be through field research, product testing or through technological advancements.
Each new lead will be assessed against existing design specs (such as usability, durability and cost) and then carefully implemented if a positive impact is expected. We look forward to exploring these developments with One Education!