By now, many people across the developed and developing world are familiar with the XO Laptop. Alternately known as the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) and the $100 laptop, the XO laptop represents a radical shift in laptop design. Driving that shift are people like Mary Lou Jepsen, former CTO of the OLPC and MicroDisplay Corporation, as well as the Founder / President of PixelQi.

For those present at the Greener Gadgets Conference, Mary Lou’s Design Keynote was arguably the most passionate and electrifying presentation of the lot. Jepsen spoke of the technical innovations that went into the XO Laptop and the decisions that contributed to making it cheaper, longer-lasting and more energy efficient than the status quo.

The three key energy innovations are that the XO uses low amounts of power, is built to last at least 5 years, and is easily repairable. The key components are the combination of a sunlight-readable screen that stays on without power going to it and a hardware architecture that turns off the motherboard when it is not in use.

In referencing the Apple laptop on her podium, Jepsen asked:

What is the motherboard doing on? There are no pixels moving. The motherboard has no reason to be on!

The XO is capable of being powered by a variety of different devices at a variety of different voltages. That means you can plug in a solar panel, a hand crank, or any wall outlet you happen to have handy.

Better yet, you don’t have to charge the batteries very often as the XO uses far less power than any other laptop on the market. A typical desktop computer uses 80 watts, while an average laptop uses 20 watts. The XO laptop uses just 1 watt when idling. Additionally, the XO also has a biodegradable battery, uses recyclable parts, and avoids toxic chemicals.

Jepson also spoke about the need for the change to come from engineers making hardware platforms, saying:

If we rely on industrial designers to lead the green revolution in electronics and gadgets…we will fail.

Mary Lou Jepson also spoke about green marketing, saying:

People are trying to make a buck off of green. Green is actually cheaper. Green isn’t about (sigh) buying more stuff.

Jepsen pointed out that the team didn’t originally plan to make the XO an environmentally friendly product. Every manufacturer she spoke with early in the process claimed that using recyclable and non-toxic materials would add $30 to the cost. That’s pretty dear when your angling to bring the total price of the laptop to under $100. Faced with these challenges, the OLPC team wound up designing the most environmentally-friendly laptop ever, almost by accident.

Jepsen left the OLPC team a little over a month ago to start a new for-profit company called Pixel Qi. The goal is to develop commercial versions of the technologies she pioneered. If all goes according to plan, we could start to see other laptops incorporating some of the same technologies used in the XO.

A full video archive of the Greener Gadgets Conference can be found here. There you’ll find Podcast subscription information as well.

Article by Curtiss P. Martin, Clean Technology Editor at
Video by Alexandra (Sasha) Lerman, Editor / Producer at