The head of the world's largest chipmaker on Wednesday unveiled a new mobile personal computer designed to provide affordable, collaborative learning environments for teachers and young students.
Codenamed "Eduwise," Intel Corp CEO Paul Otellini said the US$400 machines will feature built-in wireless and will be able to run Microsoft Corp's Windows or Linux operating systems.
"What we want to do is accelerate to uncompromised technology for everyone in the world," Otellini said during a demonstration at the World Congress on Information Technology in Austin. "No one wants to cross the digital divide with yesterday's technology."
The flip open Eduwise computer includes a handle, light blue accents and snaps shut like a purse. Special software allows students in a classroom to view presentations, take tests and interact individually with their teachers using a built-in wireless connection.
The cheaper PCs are part of a US$1 billion investment by Intel over the next five years to promote the use of computers in schools, cafes and other public spots in developing countries, Otellini said.
The Eduwise machine was designed by Intel, but will be built by its computer-making customers. Otellini said the devices should be available next year.
Many high-tech companies, including Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD) and Microsoft, have announced similar initiatives to close the digital divide between developed and developing nations.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte's nonprofit One Laptop Per Child association hopes to begin providing US$100 laptops to millions of children in China, India, Egypt, Brazil, Thailand, Nigeria and Argentina by early next year.
Tentative designs call for a machine using one-tenth of the power of conventional laptops, a 17.7cm screen and a Linux operating system. The project's partners include Google Inc and AMD.
In an earlier speech at the conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the benefits of this global spread of technology are only starting to be felt.
"What we see going forward over the next five, 10, 15 years is a world of technology that has the potential itself to be even more important than the positive change it has enabled society in the past 10 years," he said.
"Computers will see, computers will listen, computers will understand. Computers will help the world grow smaller and help people to collaborate in new ways," he said.
Otellini also doubled former Intel CEO Andy Grove's prediction in 1996 that there would someday be more than a billion computers connected to the Internet.
He said the billion mark should be reached by next year, and that figure could double in five years because of cheaper, more powerful computers and the spread of the Internet to rural regions with the deployment of a long-range wireless technology called Wi-Max.
Otellini also said that Intel had reached a deal with the Mexican government to provide new low-cost PCs to 300,000 teachers by the end of this year.