Motorola Xoom hacked by Ethiopian kids who can’t read; with no instructions whatsoever

by: Joe HindyNovember 4, 2012

ethiopian kids The Motorola Xoom is one of the easier tablets to hack. For most, it’s a matter of using the old fastboot oem unlock command using Fastboot in the Android SDK. There really is no basis for comparison on how easy it is. Until now, that is. Now, it can be said that the Moto Xoom is so easy to hack, that illiterate Ethiopian children can do it.

You read that correctly. About five months ago, the OLPC Project decided to have a little experiment. They chose a village in Ethiopia where the literacy rate was nearly 0% and decided to drop off a bunch of Motorola Xooms there. On the tablets, there was custom software that was meant to teach kids how to read. The kicker is that they gave no instructions. They just dropped the box off at town square and walked away.

The results were both fascinating and astounding. Within four minutes, one kid had opened the box and had figured out how to turn on the Xoom. Within five days, the kids were using nearly 50 applications each every day. Two weeks in, the kids were singing their ABC’s in English. At the five month mark, they hacked the Motorola Xooms so they could enable the camera, which had been disabled by OLPC.

We feel it is important to mention that these Ethiopian kids were totally illiterate. They’d never seen so much as a stop sign in their short lifetimes; never mind a food label or a book. Even so, it still only took them five months to hack their first Android devices. We couldn’t be more proud.

So these Ethiopian kids learned English and then hacked the Xoom?

It sounds like something people would laugh at, but yes that’s what actually happened. The Xooms were loaded with a custom software called Nell. Nell was created to help kids in developing countries learn. You can read more about Nell in this publication.

OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte never did mention whether the experiment was a success or not. However, considering the Ethiopian kids know their ABC’s in both English and Android hacking, we would definitely call it successful. Let us know what you think about all this.

  • Wow

  • RarestName

    And meanwhile, some rich CEO couldn’t figure out how to browse the web on his tablet.

  • IulianPeride

    judging from the picture, 1 day later the tablet was dead because there was no electricity

    • Perhaps picking up a zoom will help you get beyond the picture and read all about solar power…….

  • Am

    Is the Xoom easy to hack, or are Ethiopian kids just brilliant?

    • caser


  • And how were they able to keep the battery charged?

    • Peterson Silva

      Maybe the Xoom has a larger-than-usual battery too =P Or Xoom MAXX has only been released in Ethiopia..

    • Aaron Carrell

      It says there is a solar powered case in the publication.

      • Wow, I wonder if Woot will offer the solar powered case for my two Motorola Xoom wifi?

        • g0vt_h00ker


    • silver2011

      solar power generators were also given along with the tablets.

  • Peterson Silva

    I am SO throwing this to the face of the first fanboy who says Android isn’t intuitive :)

  • out of this world AMAZING!

  • Define ‘hacking’ if you mean adding the stock camera.apk, as Nexus 7 owners have done to use their device’s front camera for general use, then that is not hacking.

    Love the fact that the kids are curious, like any young folk they blossom with education. Please leave your condescending white guilt out of the article, pretending that this amounts to a significant intellectual achievement, it does not. Jews, Asians, hell even poor Americans and Europeans had been able to use intellect to raise the standard of living, whereas Africa with all its vast resources is still in the dark ages, they must stop their excuses and make major advances, otherwise they will end up being slaves once more, only this time to China.

    • Hello Bella, thank you for reading and commenting. The term “hacking” was pulled out of the OLPC description of the study results. Presumably, since the camera.apk is usually in /system/app, the kids would need root access to modify it. Additionally, something I actually forgot to mention, is the kids actually removed a lot of the pre-loaded software from OLPC and customized their home screens. Removing bloat definitely requires root. Rooting is far and wide considered to be hacking, since you are breaking security and gaining access to parts of the file system you usually aren’t allowed to.

      I’m not entirely sure where the rest of your response stems from. When I wrote it, all I was thinking was “this is really cool and I can’t wait to share it with AA readers.” So I apologize if that isn’t the vibe you got from it. Thank you again for reading and commenting :)

  • Ben

    Joe,you are stupid! You don’t realize any damn thing about this study and your title exhibits your stupidity..Guys,this study was not about tablets being hacker proof or not.It is about the ability of a human mind to learn and absorb new information in this digital world.It is not about how smart Ethiopian kids is a just one other proof that given the right environment and education all human beings are destined to achieve great things,black or white,american or Ethiopian doesn’t matter.

    • Very well said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hello Ben, thank you for reading and for your comment. I apologize that you were offended by the title of my article. It was not my intent to be offensive, but to catch the eyes of readers to get them interested in reading the article. If you look at the source of the article (Dvice), they have a very similarly worded title.

      In the article, though, I made sure to give a summary of the entire study based on the facts reported by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte as well as mentioning Nell, the software that taught the kids. The article was about how the kids, through education, was able to go from illiterate to hacking Android devices in 5 months using a device that no one showed them how to use and how amazing and impressive that is. Especially since kids in Ethiopia don’t get any education at all and many don’t for their entire lives. I’m not entirely sure what you thought this article was about.

      I hope I was able to help clarify things and address your concerns. Thank you again for reading!

      • Nabilom

        The statement ‘kids is Ethiopia don’t get any education at all’ is incorrect. Ues, there are places – including the areas covered in this project – with limited school coverage. Otherwise THE MAJORITY of kids in Ethiopia get access to education. It might help you to know that Ethiopia is making a tremendous progress in education. We don’t need to neglect the achievement of an African nation to bolden the success of a small western experiment.

  • Goodbye

    Can we please now get rid of all textbooks? This study confirms to me that we just don’t need them any longer.

  • BakerDude

    No one is going to say it because it may seem insensitive but this project is stupid. As long as extreme poverty, religious conflicts and corrupt governments exist, this is just a slap in the face to the indigenous people. I’m pretty sure they’d rather have a stable food source, clean water and sleep without fear. This is just another “feel good” “project” that is completely useless. I admit that there is only so much people can do for such countries but dropping off some Xooms makes me sick. Drop off some seeds and katadyn filters. I’m sure they would have appreciated that MUCH more. Is this foundation funded by corporations that want their next factory workers to speak English, as opposed to Chinese?

    • Marc DePoe

      I strongly disagree – especially about this being “another feel good project”. The goal here is accessible education for everyone. Maybe a device like this could even teach them how to fish. You should watch Nicholas Negroponte’s “Solve for X” presentation which I linked above.

  • Marc DePoe

    This video will give you clear idea as to what Mr. Negroponte is up to and what this is all about – pretty amazing .. and this is only the beginning.

  • asdas

    This article sucks.. trying to demise the fact that the kid from a really poor country did what a US citizen from middle or high school can’t!

  • asdas

  • Twisted247

    Seriously people get off of Joe’s back(nabilom, baker, bella), He did not start the “experiment” or have anything to do with what went on over there or the original article. He was simply passing along a story that was related the the Android culture CONSIDERING THIS SITE IS CALLED ANDROID AUTHORITY. Jesus quit with the “poor little african kids” bullshit and “boo westerners and whites” GTFO of the forum and don’t read the article if you have a problem. There was no harm intended by this what so ever and you choose to step on here and push your little beliefs. So you can go sit at the coffee shop the next morning with your dread wearing idiot friends and brag to them on how to “told them”.. You are so clueless as to what the people that did this stand for or what they are striving for. So piss off and go preach your crap else where not the Android forum your out of place!