Up until recently I thought that the very cool laptop used by Cpl. Hicks in Aliens might have just been a fancy prop. I even wondered if some collector, somewhere, might have owned one of them. Well, it turns out that if you’re ignorant like I am, you’ll probably have missed the fact that the laptop was in fact real. It was a Grid Compass. And it was released shortly the time Aliens was in production in the early ’80s.
It’s a pretty cool piece of equipment. A piece of history even.
The system was designed by John Ellenby, weighed 11lb and could be purchased for $8,400 in 1985. No small amount of money, especially back then. One outfit that did purchase it in large numbers was the United States military, who liked its portability, durability and lightness. NASA also purchased quite a few of these for the same reason. So in a sense, if Aliens were real (in 1985…) then Colonial Marines would probably have sought and used this thing.
The computer featured an Intel 8086 processor, a 320 × 240-pixel electroluminescent display, 340-kilobyte magnetic bubble memory, and a 1,200 bit/smodem. Devices such as hard drives and floppy drives could be connected via the IEEE-488 I/O (also known as the GPIB or General Purpose Instrumentation Bus).
The device first appeared in the TV series Riptide in 1983, then in the 1985 John Travolta movie Perfect. In Aliens, the laptops are used to control motion detecting sentry guns wirelessly.