Thursday, February 12, 2009

Women in technology: Randice-Lisa Altschul

Those who have been reading this blog for a while will know that I'm not a great one for women-only awards. Nevertheless I have agreed to participate in this pledge. Suw Charman-Anderson has pledged that if 1,000 other people blog about a woman in technology, she will blog about Ada Lovelace on 24 March. I agreed because (a) I think Ada Lovelace is a noteworthy person in the history of technology and (b) because there are more noteworthy women in the history of technology than many people appreciate, and I am more than happy to cast a spotlight on one of them.

The woman I have chosen is Randice Lisa Altschul, who patented the disposable mobile phone in 1999. She is attributed with the quote "We've printed a phone." The phone is about three times as thick as a credit card and (and this is cool) made from recycled paper.

Altschul is not your typical techie. She is a toy inventor. The story goes that, one day in 1996, she was talking on her phone while driving along the highway (tsk tsk - not acceptable behaviour) and getting really frustrated that her phone signal kept fading in and out. She wanted to hurl the phone out of the window, which was what heralded her epiphany. Why not design a phone that you can use up and throw away?

She worked with an engineer to develop the super-thin circuitry that was required, but was unable to achieve this at an affordable price. She was therefore forced to file for bankruptcy. As a consequence, competing companies were able to take the realised concept to market before her. Nevertheless, she is credited with the original idea.

She attributes her mentality to her toy-design background:

''The greatest asset I have over everyone else in that business is my toy mentality. An engineer’s mentality is to make something last, to make it durable. A toy’s life span is about an hour; then the kid throws it away. You get it, you play with it, and — boom — it’s gone.''
There are some claims that the phone was named product of the year 2002 by Frost and Sullivan, but I have been unable to verify this.

Altschul is addressing the inventor gender gap, encouraging young women to explore ways to turn their ideas into reality.


Randi said...

Thanks for the write up, happened to come across it today but your information on what happened is not correct. The backruptcy was because the company was scammed by our financial consultant and the product is in development today. see my book Financiers, Lawyers and Other Assorted Snakes. Have been awarded 13 patents on the technology which ranges from the dispoasable cell to the paper lap top. Randi

The upsycho said...

@Randi Thanks so much for stopping by with your comment and correction. I'm sorry to hear that you wer scammed. A sad - but apparently not uncommon - story.

I wish you all the very best with the product. It was a great idea, especially since you chose to use recycled materials!

Anonymous said...

Randi im doing a project on you and was wondering if u had a written biography or something on the internet that would answer these questions...There kind of specific but thats what my teacher wants :/

Date of birth
Place of birth
Parents names
Spouse and children
Hobbies, interests or sports
1st job
Elementary, middle and high school
Areas lived


Thank you.

The upsycho said...

@Anonymous This is probably not the best place to attract Randi's attention. She doesn't hang out here. But you can look at the following sites:

Inventor of the week
Bowker Biographies
Women of Tech

For more info, try a search on