The Grid Compass 1101 was the first clamshell laptop ever produced. This innovation of folding the screen over the keyboard was eventually used by almost all laptop manufacturers and for a long time provided Grid with a revenue stream from the patent. It was made of die-cast magnesium, which makes it the first truly rugged portable, and therefore gets pride of place on www.rugged-portable.com and an extra long post! Grid apparently stood for “Graphical Retrieval Information Display”
Designed by Bill Moggridge, a British industrial designer who made it to the bay area long before Jony Ive, the GRiD Compass 1101 was innovative and successful despite being expensive and rather odd in some ways. Bubble memory? GPIB built in? GRID-OS? a 1200bps modem?
Bill’s original design featured all of the classic features of a modern clamshell laptop. In order to raise money for the venture, he created a mock-up of the proposed product. Not in 3D cad… But a real mock-up:
GRID Systems Corporation
John Ellenby founded GRiD Systems Corporation in 1979 and was later joined by co-founders Glenn Edens (VP of Development) and David Paulsen (Manager of Hardware Engineering). The company was based in Mountain View, CA in the heart of Silicon Valley.
They moved from a garage (typical!) to their first office building in August of 1980 at which time they started hiring people. The company was very secretive (not even telling job applicants what they might be working on) and remained in stealth mode till March 30, 1981 when they issued their first press release.
The original GriD concept was inspired by Alan Kay’s vision of a Dynabook. Ellenby apparently wanted to develop a portable email terminal, while Glen envisioned a portable personal computer. Indeed, Edens said his primary contribution was to push the founding team to do a whole computer, complete with local processing and storage (rather then a dumb terminal with only email capability).
The Grid Compass was primarily bought by the military, NASA, and other government agencies, and is famous for having been used on shuttle missions in the 80’s. It was also a fixture on Air Force 1. On sale at the same time as the Osborne 1 ($1,795) the price of $8,100 was pretty stratospheric.
NASA modified the GriD by replacing the modem module with a Shuttle Bus interface board, designed by Rockwell International. That enabled the GriD to communicate with on board instruments. This type of modification is exactly what ProCustom Group does today for Getac rugged laptops.
Link to Smithsonian Link for Grid-II
Also importantly, it featured as the sentry gun control terminal in Aliens the movie.
Grid discussion at the Computer History Museum
“Grid was used to launch every satellite off the space shuttle from 1984-1987. The launch sequence software for the shuttle was actually programmed into the on board Grid Compass. The GriD could communicate with all the electronics gear on the shuttle via a Rockwell built communications card that replaced the integral modem. Later, NASA programmers developed quality of life applications for the GRiD. These included calendar scheduling for the astronauts. NASA called the GRid – a Portable On board Computer. In the Jan 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster, the Grid’s were recovered and they still worked.”
Die-Cast Magnesium case 15″ x 11.5″ x 2″
Intel 8086 microprocessor with 8087 arithmetic co-processor
256K bytes DRAM
384K bytes bubble memory (non-volatile storage)
Electro-luminescent active matrix display – 340 x 240
57 key keyboard
integral 300/1200 bps modem with audio, telephone handset and speaker
RS-232C/RS-422 serial port
IEEE 488 GPIB peripheral interface
GriD link LAN
Clock/calendar with lithium battery back-up
Power consumption: 60W