Inspired by the learning power of the Apple II and other 8-bit classics, a new project aims to go back to basics in the name of truly bringing a computer to every child.
From the same university that brought us the One Laptop Per Child project comes a rival effort to bring the world US$12 computers that will plug into television sets. Sound familiar? Yes, just like our own experiences back in the ‘80s, the Educational Home Computer Initiative (eHCI) aims to bring smart but simple 8-bit computing to every corner of the globe. And if you have any talent for programming an NES, they want you to get involved.
Projects like OLPC may have been winning accolades for their good intentions, but the fact remains only a limited number of children have actually been getting their hands on these $100 computers. The eHCI came about on a visit to Bangalore in March, when ‘educational’ TV game sets were spotted on sale for rs550, or about $15. This included a keyboard, game controllers and game cartridges, with the carts claiming millions of games in one. According to the team's presentation to a recent design summit:
"We were skeptical, and bargained, and ended up walking away with an rs500 ($12.50) educational computer. Turns out it actually worked. It’s a real computer."
Thus inspired, the eHCI was born on their return to MIT. Looking back on their own experiences with the Apple II, NES, and other 8-bit systems it seemed that a cheap, classic system concept could still deliver great value to families with limited or no exposure to computing.
With some additional research the team came up with the Victor-70 as their hardware inspiration, a Chinese 8-bit computer that plugs into any TV. It’s also a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) clone, with cartridge support that even accepts original NES games.
While OLPC aims to garner government and corporate backing for the distribution of laptops to children around the world, eHCI believes machines like the Victor-70 may achieve more widespread access in the near term by making them directly affordable.
“The interactivity offered by 8-bit platforms may seem limited in comparison to modern computers, but keep in mind that millions of first-world consumers bought and loved Nintendo NES only a decade and a half ago.”
Already there is a wiki
in place to discuss and develop the idea, with a view to enhancements such as flash memory and internet connectivity. The team is also working on an SDK for the system to help local developers create new games and content with the lowest possible barriers to entry.
More information is set to launch at the Play Power
website in coming days, and the team is eager for anyone with ideas and knowledge of NES development to get involved. You can also see photos of the teams inspirations here