IEEE Honors Influential Tech Visionaries

Annual ceremony salutes video game pioneer, smart grid proponent, and top tech corporate leaders

5 August 2014

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When I attend this year’s annual IEEE Honors Ceremony on 23 August, in Amsterdam, there will be several familiar names among the 20 recipients. The Honors Ceremony recognizes technical professionals in a wide variety of disciplines for exceptional achievements and outstanding contributions that have made a lasting impact on technology, society, and the engineering profession.

SERIOUS GAMER

Baer Photo: AP Photo

Recipients will include video game pioneer IEEE Life Fellow Ralph H. Baer, who will receive the IEEE Edison Medal “for pioneering and fundamental contributions to the video-game and interactive multimedia-content industries.” I featured him in May in “Games From the Masters,” as part of our series highlighting IEEE Fellows in celebration of the Fellow program’s 50th anniversary year. Known as the “Father of the Home Video Game,” he came up with the idea for the home console for video games in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1968 that Baer and colleagues at Sanders Associates, in Nashua, N.H., finished a prototype. (In this video, Baer and colleague Bill Harrison play a ping-pong video game, the first game to be played on a television set.) Baer also helped pioneer the popularity of single-chip, microprocessor-controlled games such as Milton-Bradley’s electronic memory game, Simon.

POWER TRANSFORMERS

Reder Photo: S&C Electric Co.

Then there’s IEEE Fellow Wanda Reder. She is the vice president of power system solutions at S&C Electric Co., in Chicago. She is receiving the IEEE Richard M. Emberson Award for “leadership in the IEEE Smart Grid program and in the continued growth of the IEEE Power & Energy Society, including the creation of its Scholarship Fund. The Institute has written about her involvement in several of these projects.

There was our December 2010 profile of her, “Wanda Reder: Grid Guru.” As the 2008-2009 president of the society, she was the first woman to serve in that role. She made it her goal to create a gateway for IEEE’s work on the smart grid. That resulted in the IEEE Smart Grid Portal, which launched in 2010, and the first IEEE PES Conference on Innovative Smart Grid Technologies. She also boosted membership in the society by marketing it to young professional engineers. In just a few short years membership increased to more than 30,000 from 20,000. She went on to chair the IEEE Smart Grid group in 2010 where she coordinated related IEEE societies’ sometimes disparate agendas to find a common goal.

The Institute caught up with her again in 2012 when I wrote about the success of the IEEE Power & Energy Society’s Scholarship Plus Initiative, which she instituted. The multimillion-dollar three-year program encourages EE undergrads to pursue careers in power engineering by awarding them scholarships and providing career experiences as undergraduates. The initiative was designed to head off the dire shortage of power and energy expertise in North America anticipated during the next decade. Since 2011, more than US $1.1 million has been distributed via nearly 550 scholarships to more than 360 undergraduate students attending 137 U.S. and Canadian universities. 

achieveBaliga Photo: North Carolina State University

A familiar name in the semiconductor field is this year’s IEEE Medal of Honor recipient and semiconductor pioneer, B. Jayant Baliga. He is being recognized “for the invention, implementation, and commercialization of power semiconductor devices with widespread benefits to society.” While a researcher in the early 1980s at General Electric’s Research and Development Center, in Schenectady, N.Y., Baliga led the development of the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT). The energy-efficient transistor is used in lightbulbs, automotive electronic ignition systems, electric trains, home appliances, and other applications.

Baliga has been a professor at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, since 1988. He received the 2011 U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation for developing and then helping to commercialize the IGBT. Bestowed by the president of the United States, the medal is the country’s highest honor for technological achievement. Read more about him in IEEE Spectrum.

GOVERNMENT AND CORPORATE LEADERS

Arati Prabhakar Photo: DARPA

While IEEE Fellow Arati Prabhakar may not be a household name among our readers, the organization she directs is: DARPA or more formally known as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The visionary innovations it conceives of or funds has changed society for the better. For that reason, it is receiving the IEEE Corporate Innovation Award for its “many decades of driving world-changing technological innovations.” The Institute profiled Prabhakar in January 2013 shortly after she was named director of DARPA. She is responsible for managing its $2.8 billion annual budget and its six offices, which invests in advanced technologies and military systems, largely through contracts with the technical community. It isn’t her first experience with DARPA. From 1986 to 1993, she was a project manager for the agency, in charge of research in semiconductor manufacturing technology, including advanced lithography.

Eric_Schmidt Photo: Wikipedia

Google and Qualcomm certainly are well-known names. Their leaders are both receiving an award. IEEE Member Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, is the recipient of the IEEE Founders Medal, “for transforming global access to information through his leadership and technological contributions.” Paul E. Jacobs, also an IEEE member, is Qualcomm’s executive chairman. He will be receiving the IEEE Ernst Weber Managerial Leadership Award for “leadership in the development and commercialization of mobile technologies that contributed significantly to the growth of its global industry.”

While CEO from 2001 to 2011, Schmidt helped guide the search engine from a start-up company to a provider of the Internet’s fastest and largest search engine. He has been a driver of innovation, seeking methods to improve search performance and establishing features such as Google Maps and Gmail. Today as executive chairman, his responsibilities include building partnerships and broader business relationships, government outreach, and advising senior leadership on business and policy issues.

Paul_E_Jacobs Photo: Wikipedia

In 2005 when Jacobs became CEO of Qualcomm, which designs, manufactures, and markets digital wireless telecom­munications products and services globally, there were only a few smartphone models and about 309 million 3G connections. Today there are nearly 1 billion smartphones sold each year and more than 2.4 billion 3G and 4G connections. Early on, Jacobs recognized the true power of the mobile phone was its potential for data and not just voice. Among the groundbreaking work developed under his direction, he introduced GPS capabilities, technology for over-the-air downloading of applications, and push-to-talk functionality in mobile phones. He also introduced solutions to handle spectrum-sharing problems.

Congratulations to the other recipients. I can’t wait to meet these visionaries in Amsterdam.

And tune into IEEE.tv, which will be streaming the event live on 23 August at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

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