OLPC’s Negroponte Honored by Lego Group

It seems only fitting that the creators of one of the most popular children’s toys in history would want to honor the creator of the most successful children’s computer in history.

Today the Denmark-based Lego Group, of plastic brick fame, announced that it has awarded its $100,000 Lego Prize to Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab and the One Laptop Per Child Foundation.

The company said that the prize, which it created in 1985, was being awarded to Negroponte “for his passionate vision of one laptop per child and his ability to make his vision come alive.” Nearly 2 million XO Laptops built by the foundation have been distributed to children in 40 countries.

“In the Lego Group, we see children as our role models,” Lego owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen said in a statement. “Children look at the world with open eyes, unconstrained by the past and willing to ask why? and what if? By connecting them and enabling them to learn and develop, OLPC creates totally new possibilities and a hope for a much brighter future for the world.”

Reached by Xconomy in Copenhagen, where he will receive the prize at today’s Lego Idea Conference, Negroponte said the most important meaning of the prize was that “Both OLPC and Lego stand for learning by playing.”

Negroponte’s association with the Lego Group is a longstanding one: the company was one of the earliest sponsors of the Media Lab, where researchers’ offices are perennially littered with Lego bricks. “We are celebrating our 26th year of collaboration with Lego,” Negroponte says, so visiting Copenghagen to pick up the award “may be more like [being with] family.”

I asked Negroponte how the prize helps to validate OLPC’s mission of supplying low-cost laptops to children in developing countries. “There is not much left to validate any more,” he replied, via e-mail. “The only open question is how to pay for OLPC. The full cost of acquisition and ownership is $1 per week per child.”

Negroponte said he doesn’t have any plans so far for using the prize money. The last person to receive the Lego Prize was New Hampshire-based inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen, in 2008.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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