The Swiss designer, now based in San Francisco, has plenty of commercial hits. That gives him the financial freedom to pursue his belief that design can change the world. It’s a passion he put to work on his most famous project, One Laptop Per Child, better known as “the $100 laptop.”
Now he’s nearing completion of the sequel: A $100 tablet. It’s rugged, solar-powered, and designed for children in the world’s poorest countries.
“The tablet is a refinement of the laptop,” Behar told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta in interviews for The Next List. “It’s much smaller, it’s much lighter, it uses less energy, less materials — it can be even more cost effective.”
The project began six years ago when Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT’s Media Lab, approached Behar with an idea many deemed impossible: create an inexpensive and impeccably designed laptop for children across the world.
“He described to me his vision of education, his vision for technology being available to all,” Behar says.”I got very inspired for the first time in the field of technology.”
“It’s in some sense more integral than food and water,” Negroponte says of the project’s mission. “With education, you can actually solve the water problem and the energy problems and, you know, the health problems.”
It took years to turn the vision into reality, but OLPC has now distributed more than 2.5 million laptops around the world, stretching from Birmingham, Ala., to Uganda.
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, OLPC showed off its next breakthrough: the XO-3 tablet. Like the original laptop, it’s designed to appeal to kids — and to survive their rough handling.
The tablet’s screen is both flexible and durable, Behar says. The bright-green cover includes a solar panel that lets the laptop charge in sunlight. Gizmodo raved about the demo model on display at CES, calling it “perfectly suited to its target environs.” The XO-3 is slated for release later this year.
Behar is slowly expanding deeper into the tech realm. One of his newest creations is an app-powered, fitness-tracking wristband called Jawbone UP. It got off to a rocky start, but that doesn’t faze Behar.
“I think many times in the last 10 or 11 years or so, we have created products and experiences and built brands where others didn’t think it was possible,” he says.
His latest pro bono project is another venture into uncharted territory.
After being approached by the Mexican government and Augen Optics to help with their “See Better to Learn Better” campaign, Behar designed a collection of customizable eye glasses that could be given away for free to students in Mexico.
“They were inspired by One Laptop Per Child,” he says. “The manufacturing cost had to be extremely low, and at the same time they had to be really engaging.”
That’s the catch. “Children in Mexico and most of South America really see wearing eyeglasses as a stigma,” Behar says. So he created an array of multi-colored glasses and encouraged children to have fun choosing their own colors.
Behar takes on those kinds of projects at no cost.