Recipients of IEEE’s 2018 Medals Helped Bring Technology to the Masses

Annual ceremony salutes those who commercialized GPS, smartphones, and other consumer electronics

25 May 2018

We tend to take GPS, the Internet, and digital cameras for granted, but such consumer electronics might not have been possible without the work contributed by several of the 25 recipients honored at this year’s IEEE Honors Ceremony. They were recognized on 11 May at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

Life Fellow Bradford W. Parkinson received IEEE’s highest recognition, the Medal of Honor, for his role in leading the development and advancement of GPS. As a colonel in the U.S. Air Force in 1973, he led efforts to gain government approval of the system. The technology was funded by the military, but Parkinson envisioned it to have commercial applications.

“Revolutions are very hard, and our GPS revolution was intended to be benevolent, but it was doubted or rejected by many,” Parkinson said in his acceptance speech. “The award was given to me, but mostly the award is for the success of GPS.”

During his speech, he showed a slide that said: “GPS would weather the protracted storm only if every link did not fail.” Beneath those words was a chain and at each link was a photo of a person who had contributed to the technology’s development.

“I was the anchor, or our ship would have crashed,” Parkinson said. “We were beset with technical challenges, Washington’s politics, severe budget constraints and, at that time, a hostile Air Force. The largest motivator for a good engineer is to know that you accomplished something, particularly if it was for the good of humanity.”

Fellow Nambi Seshadri has had a hand in just about every generation of mobile and wireless communications. While he was at the helm of Broadcom, the company improved wireless chipset performance while reducing prices. The system-on-a-chip integration led to more affordable smartphones. Seshadri received the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal “for contributions to the theory and practice of wireless communications.”

The technologies developed by Fellow Eli Yablonovitch affect just about anyone who uses a mobile phone or surfs the Internet. The recipient of the IEEE Edison Medal proposed that semiconductor lasers should be strained so they could benefit from reduced valence band (hole) effective mass. Optical telecommunication—such as using the Internet, making a phone call, or checking email—occurs by strained semiconductor lasers. Yablonovitch received the medal “for leadership, innovations, and entrepreneurial achievements in photonics, semiconductor lasers, antennas, and solar-cells.”

Life Fellow Tsugio Makimoto’s technical expertise and vision have led to the commercialization of high-speed memories and microprocessors that are inside digital cameras, handheld PCs, and other portable devices. He helped develop the world’s first high-speed 4K/16K CMOS static random-access memory based on twin-well structure technology. He then developed a high-speed CMOS microprocessor unit that was as fast as its negative-channel metal-oxide semiconductor counterpart but operated at much less power. Most of today’s electronic devices are based on Makimoto’s technology. For his technical and managerial leadership in CMOS memory and microprocessors, he received the IEEE Robert N. Noyce Medal.

“My work was to move CMOS technology to the mainstream of semiconductors in the 1970s and beyond,” Makimoto said. “Today most electronic devices are based on CMOS. It has become the mainstream in technology and has changed our society in a big way.”

Thanks to Life Member Thomas F. Budinger, there are affordable and safe medical imaging tests that detect cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. His work in defining how radiation can be safely applied to medical imaging enabled the development of positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). He received the IEEE Medal for Innovations in Healthcare Technology for “pioneering contributions to tomographic radiotracer imaging.”

Textbooks written by IEEE Life Fellow Delores Etter, the recipient of the IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal, have prepared hundreds of thousands of students around the world to use computers and computer programming as tools for executing the engineering design process.

“I have always believed that education is what allowed people to follow their dreams,” she said. “Over the years, I have had the chance to see first-hand how an engineering education can help young men and woman achieve their dreams and contribute to their communities and to society. To know that my textbooks have helped make that happen is very rewarding to me.” 

INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

Pixar Animation Studios has produced a string of blockbuster animated movies including Toy Story, Cars, and Coco. The company changed how such movies are made, moving the industry from 2D cell animation to full 3D computer animation. Pixar wrote compositing algebra for computer graphics, Porter-Duff, which is the process of combining an image with a background to create the appearance of partial or full transparency. It combines multiple 2D images into a single composite. Pixar also developed RenderMan, photorealistic 3D rendering software. For its long history of pioneering discoveries, Pixar received the IEEE Corporate Innovation Award.

RELATED: Q&A With Alvy Ray Smith, Cofounder of Pixar

IEEE Fellow Anthony Yen accepted IEEE Spectrum’s Emerging Technology Award  on behalf of ASML “for developing an extreme ultraviolet lithography system that will enable continued breakthroughs in miniaturization for the semiconductor industry in producing integrated circuits.” The company is the largest supplier of photolithography systems for the semiconductor industry. It also manufactures machines for the production of ICs. Yen heads ASML’s technology development centers worldwide. He recognized his colleagues at ASML who worked tirelessly on this technology for more than 10 years to bring about its industrialization. He said its success ensures the extension of Moore’s Law to sub10 nanometer generations of ICs to produce even faster, more powerful, and more energy-efficient semiconductor chips.

For its efforts to bring Internet service to some of the world’s most underserved regions as well as those affected by natural disasters, Google X’s Project Loon received the Technology in the Service of Society Award from IEEE Spectrum.

Project Loon balloons fly 20 kilometers up in the stratosphere—about twice as high as airplanes—and are outfitted with radio transceivers that act as floating cell towers.

“We’re passionate about connecting the unconnected and the underconnected,” said IEEE Member Alastair Westgarth, the head of the project. He noted that the balloons were put into service during the massive flooding that Peru experienced last May, and in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck the island in September.

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