On February 21, the National Academy of Engineering will recognize the invention in 1969 of digital imaging, now so widely used in photography and satellites. In an interesting insight into how things that we use everyday are created, a Washington Post article gives us a valuable insight into the innovation process. It is also instructive to realize that technology first developed in 1969 has only in the last decade become prevalent in consumer products.
According to the Post article, inventors Willard Boyle and George Smith at the famous Bell Labs conceived of the basic design for a silicon memory chip in a one-hour brainstorming session in late 1969. They called their invention a “charge-coupled device” for data storage. The first CCD had six pixels; today’s digital cameras have 4 to 6 million pixels and Eastman Kodak makes a 39 million pixel camera for professional photographers. CCDs make digital photography possible and have spawned products as diverse as dental x-ray machines and the NASA Mars Rover. The integrated circuits are also used in supermarket bar code readers and on the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s no wonder that the National Academy of Engineering will award the invetors the $500,000 Charles Stark Draper Prize today. Too often we take this kind of work for granted. Where are the Boyles, Smiths and Bell Labs of 2006? And congratulations to the Washington Post for prominently featuring a manufacturing innovation story that is relevant to our standard of living today and into the future.
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