Science fiction is filled with cherished seats of power, workstations that put the universe a finger-touch or a mere thought away. Darth Vader had his meditation pod, the Engineers of Prometheus had their womb-like control stations, and Captain Kirk has the Captain's Chair. But no real-life workstation has quite measured up to these fictional seats of power in the way that Martin Carpentier's Emperor workstations have.
The latest "modern working environment" from Carpentier's Quebec City-based MWE Lab is the Emperor 1510 LX. With a retractable monitor stand that can support up to five monitors (three 27-inch and two 19-inch), a reclining seat with the rest, a Bose sound system, and Italian leather upholstery, the Emperor 1510 LX looks more like a futuristic vehicle than a workstation. And it's priced like a vehicle, too—it can soon be yours for the low, low price of $21,500.
Tale of the Scorpion
In 2006, Carpentier was slaving away as a web designer when he reached a breaking point. He was tired of his tangle of cables, the struggle to manage multiple monitors, and the horrible ergonomics that came with a standard computer desk. Inspired by the emperor scorpion, Carpentier modeled his workstation after its tail, with the monitors suspended at the stinger.
His first production design, the original model of the Emperor 200, was introduced in 2007 and originally priced at about $30,000. After some initial word-of-mouth success, he took the Emperor to CES in Las Vegas in 2009.
The Emperor 200 is finished with a glossy auto paint. It has a heated and cooled power-adjustable seat with an adjustable leg-rest and reclines up to 30 degrees. It pumps the workspace atmosphere through a HEPA air purifier, and is equipped with built-in audio and lighting—all controlled from an embedded Windows system via a 10-inch touch screen.
The Emperor 200 is the Maserati of computer desks, and it comes with a Maserati price tag: $49,150, before options like tempered glass side tables and a programmable rotating pedestal. But if you're going to spend $50,000 on a workstation, you'd be a fool not to drop another $7,000 on a matching rotating pedestal so you can turn your desk to shield your monitors from the morning or late afternoon glare.
Equipped with adjustable height, recline and lumbar support, an adjustable overhead monitor support "tail," and a seat heating and cooling "climate package," the frame of the 200 is hand-built from PVC, aluminum and steel and comes in any color the customer wants. But its arrival on the market was ill-timed. "The 200 was nice, but it was expensive," Carpentier said. "And if you remember, there was a financial crisis in 2009. So I went back to the drawing board and I designed the 1510."
Introduced in 2010, the 1510 is a bit more utilitarian. It has a look more like a weapons system than a luxury car, with sand-textured powder paint (in "Carbon Black" and "Mac White"), an all-steel frame, and a microfiber covered seat. It lacks the 10-inch touchscreen control panel of the 200, substituting stainless steel switches for seat tilting, monitor arms control, and lighting. But it's also nearly a tenth of the price of the 200, with an MSRP of $5995.
Business picked up for both models in 2010. Carpentier said that in the past three years, MWE Lab has sold "more than 200 workstations so far." Five Emperor 200 workstations have been sold to the crown prince of Dubai. Emperor workstations have been put to use for simulation systems, video editing suites, and a host of other applications that require full immersion. Some have been purchased by Silicon Valley companies, but Google is not among them, Carpentier said—he claims they have opted for standing desks.
The happy medium
The relative success of the 1510 has led to the 1510 LX—what Carpentier calls "the best of both" of its predecessors, based on the engineering of the 1510 but with nearly all of the features of the 200. "It's the high-end of luxury, but it's less expensive than the 200," Carpentier said.
The Emperor 1510 LX is roughly half the price of the 200 at $21,500 minus options, and it lacks some of the luxury touches—like the auto paint, which has been replaced with a powder finish. Its frame is made of steel instead of PVC and aluminum, so it's heavier—but it gains the benefit of being able to support up to five monitors on its retracting scorpion-tail stand. And it comes with one thing you can't get on the Emperor 200—a cupholder.
Like the less expensive 1510, the 1510 LX is made mostly of steel. Carpentier said that steel was required to keep the monitor-mount "tail" from vibrating. As a result, the 1510 LX, like the 1510, is no lightweight—in its most basic version, it weighs in at about 225 pounds, and adding a turning pedestal nearly doubles that.
Producers have already begun for the 1510 LX and a few advance units have been shipped to customers around the world. For the most part, the company sells directly—Carpentier said MWE Lab has a sales representative in San Jose covering the US market, and the company is preparing to launch a web store. MWE Lab has also stuck a toe in the retail market—the 1510 is currently on sale at some Fry's Electronics stores. "But it's not for us," Carpentier says of retail. "The product is too expensive for their market. Maybe we'll introduce a new workstation with a better price. But for now our focus is on the 1510, LX, and 200."