Hall of fame adds inventors of digital camera, barcode

Announcing its inductees for 2011, the National Inventors Hall of Fame is honoring people responsible for such inventions as the digital camera, the industrial robot, and the barcode.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

The inventors of the digital camera, the industrial robot, public-key cryptography, and the barcode are just some of those being inducted into this year's National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Today, the National Inventors Hall of Fame announced its latest selections of the people responsible for some of the key technologies that we use and rely on today.

Steve Sasson
Steve Sasson Courtesy of Eastman Kodak

In 1975, a Kodak engineer named Steve Sasson built a device that was able to capture an image, convert it to an electronic signal, and then digitize and store that image, leading to the world's first digital camera, according to the hall of fame. Now more than 35 years later, today's digital cameras use the same technology.

Another device that makes digital cameras possible is the CMOS, or complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor. Led by Eric Fossum at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, his team created the first CMOS sensor, which is now a key part of cell phone cameras, Webcams, toys, video games, and other tech gadgets.

George Devol
George Devol Courtesy of George Devol

A device that helps us behind the scenes, the industrial robot, was the brainchild of George Devol. In 1954, Devol filed a patent for a robotic arm that could move freely among six different degrees and store step-by-step digital commands, according to the Hall of Fame. That invention would later turn into the Unimate industrial robot.

Following the first robot installed at an automobile factory in 1961, Devol teamed up with Joseph Engelberger to form a company called Unimation, which ramped up the production of such robots. Now almost 100 years old, Devol continues his work as president of Devol Research.

In 1976, three men--Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman, and Ralph Merkle--developed a technology that's now vital to the Internet and e-commerce, namely public-key cryptography. Designed to secure public communications, the technology uses a combination of public and private keys that work together to encrypt and decrypt private information.

Bernard Silver
Bernard Silver Courtesy of the Silver family

Finally, another invention that's had a major impact on society is the barcode. Joe Woodland and Bernard Silver (who died of leukemia in 1963) designed the first optically scanned barcode in 1948, leading to the ubiquitous use of the technology that lets us easily capture and store product information.

Beyond the current round of inventors, the hall of fame also inducts historical figures. One figure in this year's list that may ring a bell is Thomas Watson for his improvements to the phone. No relation to the founder of IBM, this Watson instead was the assistant to Alexander Graham Bell. He may best be remembered for what Bell reportedly uttered when he spilled acid on himself, which were the first words to be heard over a phone wire: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you."

The induction ceremony will take place on May 4 at the former site of the Patent Office Building, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C. The hall of fame chose this site specifically because many of the inventors being honored would have submitted their patent applications to the same building.