The world may be looking at the future of technology at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, but the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) looked to past inventions as they announced the NIHF Class of 2019. The announcement was made during a livestream hosted by tech website Engadget from the CES floor Tuesday afternoon.
From web browsers for the blind to a medical treatment nearing its seventh decade of use, the 19 inductees to this year's class were recognized for their contributions to many facets of society. They will be honored in May at a two-day event in Washington, D.C., called The Greatest Celebration of American Innovation.
Founded in 1973 in partnership with the USPTO, the NIHF is a nonprofit organization aimed at "recognizing inventors and invention, promoting creativity, and advancing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship."
"Our utmost mission is to recognize inventors and really use their stories to inspire the next generation," said Rini Paiva, NIHF's vice president of selection and recognition.
While all of the inventions recognized this year have impacted countless lives since their inception, many of them have made direct contributions to the business world, giving tools to entrepreneurs and major corporations alike. NIHF CEO Michael Oister said this year's class is a particularly special group of "superhero innovators who have made significant advances in our daily lives and well-being."
For example, the Home Page Reader (HPR) invented by Chieko Asakawa during the '90s was a groundbreaking piece of software that afforded blind and visually impaired individuals the ability to browse the internet. Rather than using a mouse and cursor on the screen to navigate a website, HPR lets users control their experience with a numeric keypad. With today's world relying more on the internet with each passing day, Asakawa's invention opened the World Wide Web to a large segment of users.
Similarly, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie's inventions of the Unix operating system and the C programming language are considered some of the most important breakthroughs in computer science. More than half a century after their creation, Unix and its offshoots are used every day in everything from massive supercomputers to nearly every operating system outside of Windows.
Not every invention deals with today's high-tech world, however. The NIHF is posthumously inducting S. Duncan Black and Alonzo G. Decker, of what is now Stanley Black & Decker, for their invention of the portable handheld electric drill. Their invention is used on every construction site around the world and in nearly every home project.
These are just some of the inventions that made an impact on the business world as well as the world at large. The following is the full list of inductees, provided by the NIHF. You can view full biographies of each inductee on the NIHF website.
- Chieko Asakawa: Web Browser for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Chieko Asakawa invented the Home Page Reader (HPR), the first practical voice browser to provide effective internet access for blind and visually impaired computer users. Designed to enable users to surf the internet and navigate webpages through a computer's numeric keypad instead of a mouse, HPR debuted in 1997; by 2003, it was widely used around the world.
- Jeff Kodosky and James Truchard: Virtual Instrumentation – LabVIEW™. Kodosky and Truchard introduced LabVIEW in 1986 as a graphical programming language that enables user-defined testing and measurement and control systems. It grew to be used by engineers, scientists, academics and students around the world.
- Rebecca Richards-Kortum: Medical Devices for Low-Resource Settings. Rebecca Richards-Kortum develops low-cost, high-performance medical technologies for people in places where traditional medical equipment is not an option. She's led the development of optical technologies to improve early detection of cervical, oral and esophageal cancer; tools to improve newborn survival in Africa, including the Pumani CPAP system for newborns with breathing problems; BiliSpec for measuring bilirubin levels to detect jaundice; and DoseRight, for accurate dosing of children’s liquid medication.
- Dennis Ritchie (Posthumous) and Ken Thompson: UNIX Operating System. Thompson and Ritchie's creation of the UNIX operating system and the C programming language were pivotal developments in the progress of computer science. Today, 50 years after its beginnings, UNIX and UNIX-like systems continue to run machinery from supercomputers to smartphones. The UNIX operating system remains the basis of much of the world's computing infrastructure, and C language – written to simplify the development of UNIX – is one of the most widely used languages today.
- Edmund O. Schweitzer III: Digital Protective Relay. Schweitzer brought the first microprocessor-based digital protective relay to market, revolutionizing the performance of electric power systems with computer-based protection and control equipment, and making a major impact in the electric power utility industry. Schweitzer's more precise, more reliable digital relay was one-eighth the size, one-tenth the weight and one-third the price of previous mechanical relays.
- David Walt: Microwell Arrays. Walt created microwell arrays that could analyze thousands of genes simultaneously, revolutionizing the field of genetic analysis. His technology accelerated the understanding of numerous human diseases and is now being used in diagnosis. It has also made DNA sequencing more affordable and accessible.
- William J. Warner: Digital Nonlinear Editing System. Bill Warner invented the Avid Media Composer – a digital nonlinear editing system for film and video. Warner's technology revolutionized film and video post-production by providing editors with faster, more intuitive and more creative techniques than were possible with traditional analog linear methods.
- John Baer, Karl H. Beyer Jr., Frederick Novello and James Sprague: Thiazide Diuretics/Chlorothiazide (Posthumous). Beyer, Sprague, Baer and Novello were part of the Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories team that pioneered thiazide diuretics, the first class of drugs to safely and effectively treat hypertension. Today, thiazide diuretics remain a first-line treatment for high blood pressure and related heart problems.
- S. Duncan Black and Alonzo G. Decker: Portable Handheld Electric Drill (Posthumous). Virtually all of today’s electric drills descend from the original portable handheld drill developed by Black & Decker, whose invention spurred the growth of the modern power tool industry. By 1920, Black & Decker surpassed $1 million in annual sales and soon had offices in eight U.S. cities and a factory in Canada. Today, the company is known as Stanley Black & Decker.
- Andrew Higgins: LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel); Higgins Boats (Posthumous). Higgins, a New Orleans-based boat builder and inventor, developed and manufactured landing craft critical to the success of the U.S. military during World War II. The best known was the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), or Higgins Boat, used to land American troops on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
- Joseph Lee: Bread Machines (Posthumous). The son of slaves, Boston-area entrepreneur Joseph Lee was a pioneer in the automation of bread and breadcrumb making during the late 1800s. The self-educated inventor was a successful hotel and restaurant owner who created his machines to allow for greater efficiency in his kitchens, and by 1900 his devices were used by many of America's leading hotels and were a fixture in hundreds of the country's leading catering establishments.
- Joseph Muhler and William Nebergall: Stannous Fluoride Toothpaste (Posthumous). Dentist and biochemist Muhler and inorganic chemist Nebergall developed a cavity-preventing product using stannous fluoride. In 1956, Crest® toothpaste was introduced nationally. Four years later, it became the first toothpaste to be recognized by the American Dental Association as an effective decay-preventing agent.