Send in your ideas. Deadline October 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2019-10
End: 2022-10
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One laptop for the new internet age.

Project's ambition is to design and deliver an innovative and technically advanced open hardware (RISC-V/ISA) based, European made, inexpensive, FOSS laptop as a personal computing device, containing on board all desirable (FOSS compliant) hardware and software features and functionalities needed to prevent any 3rd party intrusion into the system. It adds physical safety features currently not available in the market such as hot-swappable CPU, hardwired switches for e.g. camera and audio devices, and a quickly removable encrypted hard drive and peripherals. A goal of Balthazar is to enable and educate end users to be private, safe and careful with their own data, and that of others. Another goal is to make computing more sustainable and reach eco-friendly footprint, by empowering users to take up their 'right to repair', through a modular laptop that allows components to be easily exchanged and upgraded - up to the CPU itself. The goal is to lead by example and gently lead other hardware manufacturers to become fully open and transparent. And create an educational platform, as well as an advanced computing device where its users (including those with low income ) to feel secure, safe and comfortable using it. For the children of all ages.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

Hundreds of millions of people depend on a laptop computer to use the internet wherever they go. You can easily take a laptop to a library or coffee shop, or over to a friend. Despite ergonomic limitations many people use their laptop at home or in the office as well - having multiple devices around is expensive and remains a bit cumbersome. And compared to a desktop computer a portable one takes up considerably less space, which is certainly important if you share a household or office with others.

Unlike a desktop computer, exchanging broken parts of a laptop or upgrading is something that normal end users are typically not equiped to do. This means that when a laptop computer breaks or needs an upgrade, we face significant cost - and also run a non-trivial risk of abuse of our privacy. After all, some of our most precious data is held on our computers. While in general one should really be able to trust our technology suppliers, it is also well known that there has been at least one major case where repair staff was actually instructed and paid to nose around broken laptops for customer data that could be resold. In other cases depraved individuals took compromising private pictures from devices (often from unknowing victims) and shared these with others. This kind of liability pushes people to just buy a new device, instead of risking unknown cost and loss of privacy.

But why is this still the case when laptops are technically quite a mature product, no longer pushing the boundaries of physics and electronics (compared to a smart phone a laptop has plenty of space). And we live in an era where we know we have to be more careful about using natural resources than ever? Why can't we make laptops that you can just easily fix or upgrade yourself? Where one component that is broken, does not mean the end of a device. So that your wish to add a snazzier camera or some extra power does not mean that you need to buy a new one.

There is even more to it. How trustworthy and transparent are devices currently anyway? Data protection authorities have warned against privacy invasive behaviour of software that has been reported to run on over a billion devices worldwide - including (still) many governments. And there is something deeply uncomfortable about your laptop vendor mentioning in the manual that should you want to reinstall a fresh copy of the operating system, that you don't need to give in any activation code anymore because this information is already burned into your motherboard.

The Balthazar laptop wants to give the world a new type of personal computing device, one that is extensible and environment friendly. A trustworthy laptop that allows its users (including those with low income ) to feel secure, safe and comfortable using it. For the children of all ages.

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.