John Ellenby managed the development of the Alto II before starting the company that built the world’s first successful “clamshell” laptop. Slashdot reader fragMasterFlash quotes the New York Times: Ellenby, a British-born computer engineer who played a critical role in paving the way for the laptop computer, died on August 17 in San Francisco. He was 75… Mr. Ellenby’s pioneering work came to fruition in the early 1980s, after he founded Grid Systems, a company in Mountain View, California. As chief executive, he assembled an engineering and design team that included the noted British-born industrial designer William Moggridge. The team produced a clamshell computer with an orange electroluminescent flat-panel display that was introduced as the Compass. It went to market in 1982. The Compass is now widely acknowledged to have been far ahead of its time.
Back in the 1980s, NASA used them as backup navigational devices on the space shuttle — one was recovered from the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Challenger — and John Poindexter, America’s national security advisor during the Reagan administration, described them as “built like an armored tank”. Data storage cost $8,150 — equivalent to $20,325 today.
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