Ellenby managed the development of the Alto II before starting the company that built the world’s first successful “clamshell” laptop.
Ellenby played a critical role in paving the way for the laptop computer. He saw his 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 another Brit – 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.
In the 1980s, NASA used the Compass as backup navigational devices on the space shuttle. One survived 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 armoured tank.”
In those days the data storage cost $8,150 which has the buying power of $20,325 today.