Heritage of Innovation: Interview with Art Fong

Are there lessons we can learn from the people who innovated before us? The Heritage of Innovation podcasts are a series of interviews I will be conducting with people who created killer innovations that changed the world.  We will relive some great milestones in the history of technology and learn lessons on the nature of innovation from the people who were the driving force behind some of the world’s most important breakthroughs.

 

Art Fong, the 6th R&D lab employee of Hewlett-Packard, has a long and storied career as an inventor and innovator.  Attenuators designed by Art in 1959 were still listed in the Agilent Technologies catalog in 2005.  He and his wife, Mary, are also dedicated to education.  They established the Fong Family Scholarship Award to UC Berkeley engineering students demonstrating scholastic achievement and financial need.  Today, as part of our ongoing Heritage of Innovation series, I’d like to share some highlights from my interview with Art, some photos, as well as the full podcast.

 

 


Photo: Art demos the first police radar, built with surplus military parts, as Bill Hewlett and engineers watch.  


One of Art’s most important and interesting innovations was his contributions to radar technology. “While we were at MIT Labs we had talked about [a police radar] before with various people, but nobody had built one.  I got to HP [and one day] I was up in San Francisco in one of those surplus stores...I see all that x-band gear up there...and for fun I bought a parabola [and other supplies] to build one.  One coffee break we all went outside and I wanted to show the radar.  Hewlett even joined us for a bit and said, ‘that’s real nice, Art...but we don’t want to make something like that...we’re in the instrument business.’  It was about twenty years later before the commercial police radar came out...of course they’re a lot smaller.  The one I made just helped prove that the idea was there.”

During his time at HP, Art often worked closely with Bill Hewlett.  One of his most memorable moments was with the company car, a Mercury station wagon.  “We had an IEEE meeting up in San Francisco once, and we were all in the station wagon.  We came up to a road that was just being built, and [they never] put the pavement in.  There were all sorts of [holes] and ruts.  And Bill says, ‘let’s see now, there must be a speed where I can just hit the tops of the bumps and it would be a smooth ride.’  We went all the way from 50 to 100mph.  He was a reckless driver!  We never did find that speed...”  

You can download the full podcast here or read more about Art’s history in this pre-interview Q&A. Be sure to check out some of the great photos from the interview here at our Flickr site.

Heritage of Innovation: Interview with Dave Cochran

Dave Cochran with Phil McKinney

 

Are there lessons we can learn from the people who innovated before us? The Heritage of Innovation podcasts are a series of interviews I will be conducting with people who created killer innovations that changed the world.  We will relive some great milestones in the history of technology and learn lessons on the nature of innovation from the people who were the driving force behind some of the world’s most important breakthroughs.

My first interview is with Dave Cochran, the product manager of the calculator that literally changed the world. Called the HP-35 after the number of its keys, it was the first calculator that could perform all of the functions of the slide rule to 10-digit precision. It was created at the request of William Hewlett himself, and the team pushed on with it despite warnings that it would fail.  

Throughout the interview, Dave, who was also part of the team recently awarded a Milestone award for his work on the HP-35 project, shares a lot of experiences and anecdotes about his work with Bill Hewlett and David Packard, along with stories about other team members including Steve Wozniak. Fittingly for this community, he even describes how the next bench concept worked:

“The set up in the laboratory was that you had a desk and behind it you had a bench...You were always looking over at what your buddy was doing because you were curious, and sometimes his project was more interesting than yours. But sometimes you would see things that were really exciting and you’d say ‘ah’...I could use something like that right now. Can you give me a prototype?...There was that back and forth.”

Download the full podcast here.

Message Edited by Phil on 07-27-2009 02:47 PM
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