In 2007 Apple came out with the iPhone, the indispensable and fragile piece of glass that we end users are constantly buying protective cases for. The previous year, computer hardware company LaCie also came out with an iconic, handheld rectangular product, but this one had physical protection baked right into its design. LaCie’s Rugged Hard Drive, debuting in 2006, was a sturdy steel box that came wrapped in a bright orange rubber sleeve for protection.
Why orange? According to designer Neil Poulton, because the color is synonymous with “boy toys, Tonka Trucks, construction site hard hats, Caterpillar and JCB diggers, inflatable life rafts…but mostly because the rugged is a basketball to be bounced,” he explains. “And basketballs are orange.”
The company considers this the Rugged’s 10-year anniversary, since the project was initiated in 2005. And as Poulton reveals, the early phases of the project did not go well, nor stand up to executive dentition: “We did about a million hardness tests and still couldn’t get the Shore value (durometer/hardness rating) of the bumper right,” he explains. “This bed’s too hard, this one’s too soft. The first Rugged prototype had a hinged rear door flap which LaCie’s then-owner physically tore off in a rage. With his teeth.”
“Plus,” he adds, “we couldn’t get the bumper to stick to anything for all the adhesives in the world, so we turned the problem into an easy-to-change after-sales feature. And the waffles were added to box-section strengthen the sheet steel plates which kept bowing in and out with a popping sound. Very rugged.”
In the years since, LaCie has tweaked the product, bringing it from a paltry 80GB to a more modern 1TB; they’ve produced a mini version and a USB key version; they added Thunderbolt connectivity in 2012; and this year’s offering, the Rugged RAID, is a 4TB beast with a housing that can handle one ton of pressure.
Along the way they’ve gained a following among adventure photographers, off-road videographers and even Hollywood TV shows that have to ship footage back and forth; on their blog, the company brags that the Ruggeds are go-to pieces of kit for a National Geographic show traversing Baja, a photographer capturing Antarctica and the oceangoing crew of the Explorer’s Network.
It seems the only place this hard drive hasn’t yet been is outer space, which is a bit ironic considering the following: When asked what the design inspiration was for the original rugged, Poulton revealed it was “The front bumper of the Captain Scarlet SPV (Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle), from the [British] 1960s Gerry Anderson TV show.”
“Captain Scarlet was indestructible,” says Poulton, “and so was his SPV.”