Recompute is now available in Fry’s stores and directly at Frys.com! This is the retail debut for Recompute, with a special model, called the A8. Fry’s has Recomputes available in stores in California, Washington and Oregon, also found on Fry’s.com and can be ordered through ANY Fry’s store across the nation. This is a major milestone and I am very excited to share this with all of you. Recompute has gone from research to retail in four years and within that time has exceeded any and all expectations from a humble student project.
For those who do not know Recompute, it started off as my thesis work at the Industrial Design program at the University of Houston’s College of Architecture. As industrial designers, we are the architects of all the objects in the world, from toasters to toothbrushes, from automobiles to furniture, it all starts with us. There is a joke amongst industrial designers: We make landfill, as it seems to be the inevitable fate of much of what we create. I took that joke to heart and knew that as the professionals who create all these objects, that we could do a better job of influencing the environmental impact of them. The first day of the project I started off only with a single question: “What does sustainability and design mean?”.
After six months I had assembled a set of considerations which evolved into a methodology known as Full Life Cycle Design. As any good professor should, mine challenged me to prove the methodology. I needed an object to test out my thinking, some product that causes all sorts of problems in our world. After viewing pallets and pallets of dead computers at a local recycling center, I had found my guinea pig. A few months later the first working Recompute prototype was presented as my final thesis project. While I consider the methodology of Full Life Cycle Design to be what my thesis is about, Recompute became the proof that it can be done.
At the encouragement of my professor, I entered Recompute is a few design competitions in the fall 2008. Fast forward to the spring of 2009, I get a call from a good friend late one night. “Hey, you are on the front page of Gizmodo!” Recompute made it to the top 50 finalist in the 2009 CES Greener Gadgets design competition sponsored by Core77. Over the next month media inquires from around the globe about the contest went viral on the Internet, through tech blogs like Engadget, Tom’s Hardware and PC Mag’s Good Clean Tech with Recompute being the poster child of the competition. The top 10 entries went up before a panel of judges at the conference in New York City. I attended the conference, with the prototype in a brief case. Recompute was the only real physical prototype in a sea of concepts, I watched the judges critique Recompute as a “dumb idea.”
I wrote the experience off as a fluke and moved on. That was until I received a notice that I had won a Design Distinction Award, in I.D. Magazine’s 2009 Annual Design Review. The media snow ball started again. I was asked time after time; “where can I get one of those at?” Realizing that I may be on to something, Recompute needed to be manufactured and prove that it is plausible as a product. All the resources and people needed to get it off the ground were available right here in my home town of Houston, Texas. The next six months were spent trying to figure out what needed to be done to start the business and learning how to take the prototype and actually manufacture finished computers ready for market.
January 2010 the R&D began. A waiting list of potential buyers had been forming and the green light was given to the sub contractors to begin production on the Recompute bodies. By March, it became quite clear that after several failed attempts, the sub contractor could not get the production correct. I was told it was impossible to produce. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps this is as far as Recompute could go. The frustration was building, as the sub contractor promised the world, delivered nothing while it cost me time and money. However, necessity is the mother of innovation and I decided that we would buy our own production equipment and produce the computers in house, proving that it could be done.
Over the course of this process I had met several great people along the way, all supportive and encouraging for the project. The Houston Chronicle did a cover story about Recompute in the business section, the Associated Press picked it up the story and it went global again. I met the crew at Culture Pilot, a local web design company and J.R. Cohen from YMKM marketing agency, who helped me build the company website and create buzz locally and through the web. They were all so excited and stepped forward to volunteer their time and skills to help move Recompute forward. What I can’t emphasis enough is the genuine honesty in which everybody in Houston truly the development of Recompute as a business, that is why I love this city.
During the six month R&D time window several things started happening, more inquires came in from around the world; before I knew it I was sending Recomputes to global design exhibitions, such as “Green Machines” hosted by the Sciene Gallery of Trinity College in Dublin, and museums such as the Tekniska Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. Article, after article continued to be published about Recompute, and eventually led to being featured in a handful of books based on sustainability, cardboard and design. Taschen, released Product Design n the Sustainable Era, while other books such as Outside the Box: Cardboard Design Now along with the Cardboard Book all featured Recompute. The media roller coaster was still going…
It took another six months to work out the engineering production issues the sub contractor deemed as impossible, with the help of Bill Stobe at International Paper and Jason Zaiger at Dieco the kinks were ironed out in the processes. The first production Recomputes were ready in August 2010, and we were eager to start filling waiting list orders, however only six of the over 200 names on the waiting list actually bought computers. It was a tough blow, as my expectations were to sell at least 50 or so units in the first months of production to put a little capital under our belt. Sales were slow for the remainder of the year, again a shock in contrast to all the media attention that had been going on in the last 18 months. I started to believe that Recompute is only a concept, and while it can be produced and people like it they are not willing to buy it. By December I thought it was a lost cause…
I had been curious about Linux for some time now and realized that this was a community of users that have been dramatically under served for years. So in efforts to support them when Recompute launched we offered a Linux version, something that most computer companies would never do. As it turns out Linux Journal Magazine, the largest Linux publication in the world, was curious to test and review the Ubuntu Linux Recompute. When Shawn Powers’ review came out, in February 2011 to my surprise it rang a chord with the dedicated insiders of the computer community. The match of sustainable design and software had come together at last sparked a wave of interest to Linux buyers.
I traveled to Europe in the spring of 2011 for a back to back set of lectures about Recompute. First, the MIAT (Museum of Industry and Textile) in Gent, Belgium had been given a Recompute a year earlier for their permanent exhibit called “World Wide Work.” I was invited to come an speak at the museum about the development of Recompute; It was shocking to see that in a giant museum of industrialization and products, Recompute was viewed as the next evolution of how products are to be made and the corner stone of sustainable products to come. Essentially the last page in the book of object history.
Then on to Hamburg, Germany, the Greenest city in Europe, for the GoodGoods products show. It was the first event of its kind in Europe, focusing on green and sustainable products. Recompute was invited to be part of the “Design Island,” featuring the most progressive ideas in sustainable product design, with the likes of Sony. I was given the opportunity to speak about Recompute and meet many great people who understand why sustainability is so important for our world.
Many great things began to follow my Europe trip, The BBC’s One Planet radio show got to have some hands on time with a Recompute, Fast Company magazine featured in as part of the new Eco Office, and Recompute became a sponsor for TEDx Houston. Most Recently some progressive IT professionals at the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Maine Machias, took notice of Recompute and began to deploy Recomputes on their campuses aiding in their schools’ journey towards sustainability, I hope that more AASHE schools will think the same.
Along the way, some of the folks at Fry’s electronics stores were curious as well. This brings us to where we are right now: A student project, formed into a small manufacturing company here in the US, producing the only sustainable computer on the market is sitting on the shelves next to the Goliaths of the industry, changing the paradigm of design and possibilities. Currently Recompute is under review by the Dutch government for use in education.
I wanted to thank everybody who has helped and supported Recompute and myself along the way, it as been a journey of intense work, high, lows, dreams and reality. I hope that others take my story as inspiration not to give up. I feel a sense of accomplishment and perhaps a better understanding of what is possible when you put your mind to it. Where Recompute goes from here I am not sure, but I hope it leads to the next great project that can have next positive impact on our world.
–Brenden Macaluso, Designer, Recompute