Digital Camera Inventor Honored

Steve Sasson has been awarded a 2009 National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama reports The Washington Post.

The digital camera has “revolutionized the way images are captured, stored and shared,” said the dress-uniformed marine tasked with reading the honorees’ achievements.

It’s about the size of a toaster. It could be used to perform bicep curls, but holds only about .01 megapixels. “Sixteen NiCad batteries,” Sasson says, pointing to the Nickel Cadmium batteries through a mess of exposed wires and nubby tabs called potentiometers.

The camera was an afterthought, a “filler project” Sasson was asked to look into when not working on his main assignment of building a lens-cleaning machine. Its first image was an impromptu snapshot of a lab technician from down the hall. When it appeared on the television screen a minute later, the white office walls showed up, and so did the technician’s black hair. Her face, her clothes, and everything else were a muted swamp of gray. The technician looked at the historic photograph herself on the screen and shrugged. “Needs work,” she told him.

A patent was filed, received, expired, forgotton. In a pre-laptop, pre-cell phone age, a digital camera was before its time, as if, in 2010, a teleporter suddenly fell from the sky. Thank you, Scotty, but without your control panel to beam us anywhere, we’re all sort of twiddling our thumbs.

“But when you’re inventing, the whole world’s inventing with you,” Sasson says. Along came the computers, the PDAs, the e-mail. In the late 1990s Sasson took a vacation to Yellowstone with his wife and watched as the tourists around him whipped out their cameras to capture Old Faithful. He noticed that a good portion of them were digital, and he whispered to his wife, “It’s happening!”

Photo from Wikipedia


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