- Hewitt D. Crane
- William C. Estler
- Elizabeth J. Feinler
- Douglas D. Keough
- Kenneth E. Lunde
- Donald L. Nielson
Hew Crane was one of SRI’s visionaries, combining several disciplines into his multilevel career, characterized by his superb creativity, his organizational skills, and his ability to mold young talent into strong working teams. Hew’s PhD thesis—still quoted today—was on his concept of the Neuristor, a hypothetical device modeled after the human nerve cell—the neuron. Hew showed that all the functions of a modern digital computer could be implemented using only a combination of neuristors.
Hew Crane always liked to work on anything that could help people. In the opinion of many, he was SRI’s first bioengineer. In the 1960s, SRI’s biotechnology capabilities expanded. With Don Kelly and Tom Cornsweet, Hew organized a Visual Sciences Program. He recruited young PhDs and recent MDs to begin developing novel instruments for measuring the fundamentals of human vision. The most successful of these instruments was the SRI Purkinje Image Eye-Tracker, which could measure the pointing direction of the eye with about ten times the accuracy of any current instruments. When other organizations wanted their own units, Hew built four more units, which he thought would provide all the instruments needed by vision researchers. The eye-tracker was then combined with another new instrument—the SRI optometer in a binocular arrangement that allowed a vision researcher to track, in real time, the exact point in three-dimensional space where the eyes were focused. SRI designed, constructed, and delivered 30 instruments—each a project averaging over $100,000— before an outside company was licensed to take over the manufacturing.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hew developed a new approach to recognizing handwritten characters that would allow automatic input of handwritten information to a computer. Hew’s system found a strong market in Japan, where the usual keyboard was not useful for a language that uses about 2000 Chinese characters plus about 100 phonetic characters. For the first time, SRI established a spin-off, Communication Intelligence Corporation (CIC). Hew joined CIC half time as their technical vice president. Later, SRI’s stock in CIC was sold at a substantial profit.
Hew Crane, one of SRI’s most prolific inventors, has left behind a challenge to all to emulate his combination of multidisciplinary inventiveness, organizational skills, and leadership that can take SRI on to even more advanced achievements.
As Director of Public Relations at SRI from December 1948 to November 1956, Bill Estler’s vision was to make SRI the best known and respected applied research organization in the world. When he joined SRI as employee number 71, SRI was quartered in the rustic remains of a WW II Army hospital. Clients were not clamoring for SRI’s services; outstanding scientists, engineers, and administrators were not flocking to its doors. If SRI was known at all, it was as some vague kind of adjunct of Stanford University.
With only limited budgets, Bill developed a sensitive but broad outreach program. He worked in harmony with the technical and administrative staff and with the Institute’s board, earning their respect while encouraging them to believe in the future he envisioned. Working with the Director, Jesse Hobson, and with Hoot Gibson, Tom Morin, and Tom Poulter, he coordinated the very successful SRI Associates program and brought in many noted visitors such as solar pioneer Maria Telkes and architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Bill applied a cachet of style to every aspect of the Instituteís image and functions from graphics to publications and the organization of symposia, special events, and visitor tours. His publicity accomplishments are legendary. He established mutually respectful relationships with editors and noted writers from the world over, resulting in major articles identifying SRI’s outstanding work and people. SRI, its work, and its people quickly began appearing regularly in major dailies like the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Denver Post, Portland Oregonian, and Seattle Intelligencer as well as almost every relevant technical journal and magazines such as Business Week, Fortune, and Barons.
Bill Estler started Research for Industry, a monthly publication showcasing SRI’s work in nontechnical terms to thousands of business executives around the world. Research for Industry drew appreciation of SRI’s problem-solving capabilities and resulted in countless inquiries and many funded projects. Because of Bill’s efforts, SRI began attracting more and more research assignments and exceptionally gifted technical staffers. Bill Estler’s multitalented and devoted efforts created the strong foundation that helped SRI grow.
Elizabeth Feinler, known as Jake, was a crucial part of the technological revolution now known as the Internet, and manager of one of SRI’s most financially rewarding centers for more than 20 years.
Jake was leading the Literature Research section of SRI’s library in 1967 when the Advanced Research Projects Agency was planning the ARPANET. By 1969, Doug Engelbart recruited Jake to join his Augmentation Research Center to help plan and organize the Network Information Center (NIC) for the planned ARPANET.
As the ARPANET came online in 1969, the NIC was responsible for giving instructions on how to interface a host to the network, issuing ARPANET numeric and symbolic addresses, maintaining the library, and distributing RFCs (Request for Comments)—the initial standards for the evolving ARPANET. Jake and people like Jon Postel worked very hard in the early days to establish the RFCs as the official set of technical notes. This was not an easy job, because there were many parallel efforts and splinter groups. For example, after endless meetings about whether the domain name system should have a logical or a geographic basis, Jake shouted that enough was enough and she was making the choice. Because she did, we now have .com, .gov, .org.
By 1972, when Jake became Principal Investigator for the NIC project, the ARPANET was growing rapidly. The SRI NLS Journal became the bibliographic search service of the ARPANET. It provided the first links to on-line documents. By 1976, when email and the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) had been implemented, the NIC developed methods for delivering information to users via distributed information servers across the network.
The NIC was at SRI for about 22 years, from 1969 until 1991. That was an enormous run and most of that time, the renewal of the project was almost totally Jake’s doing. She did a great job of pleasing first ARPA and then the Defense Communications Agency (DCA). When Jake left SRI and the NIC project in 1989, there were about 30,000 hosts on what was becoming known as the Internet. Today there are millions. Jake Feinler made a difference—to the fortunes of SRI and to the future of the Internet.
Doug Keough gained the respect of the researchers and technicians he worked with because of his skill in handling both the theoretical and practical aspects of problems and his willingness to help co-workers. Doug Keough was hired as a physicist in 1956 by Doc Poulter and started with a project aimed at measuring micro-meteorite momentum at impact using piezoelectric transducers. With a strong interest in electronics as well as physics, Doug was soon providing instrumentation guidance at Poulter Labs.
In 1961 Doug started a project under the leadership of Dave Bernstein to develop a transducer capable of measuring the extreme pressures of explosively generated shock waves traveling in solids (pressures of millions of pounds per square inch, lasting only a few micro-seconds). At that time, such dynamic pressures could not be measured and were calculated based on optical measurements of the interactions of shock waves with free surfaces. Although the scientific community was highly skeptical that accurate electrical measurements could be made under such extreme conditions, Doug persisted and over the next five years, he developed the necessary systems and techniques. By the late-1960s, his piezoresistive transducers had gained an initial scientific acceptance. Today, the manganin and ytterbium transducers he developed, which span a useful range of pressure measurement from 10,000 to over 10,000,000 psi, have become the standard by which other systems are judged.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Doug’s expertise in piezoresistive pressure transducers, complemented by the strong theoretical base at Poulter Labs, was pivotal in obtaining numerous projects related to Cold War research. Doug’s transducers were used in studies as diverse as laser-induced impulses on missiles, high velocity projectile impacts, and explosively generated shock waves in solids, liquids, and gases. SRI’s research made major contributions to the accurate characterization of large-scale underground detonations—work that became critical in verifying compliance with nuclear test ban treaties.
During the 1970s, Doug Keough’s expertise in shock wave propagation and dynamic pressure measurement became widely recognized, and his service on steering committees guiding national policy helped maintain SRI’s leadership role in these areas.
Ken Lunde was the founder and first director of the Process Economics Program, affectionately known as PEP. Since 1965, this multiclient program has provided technical and economic data to the chemical, petroleum, polymer, and energy industries worldwide as well as to government agencies and planners of many kinds.
Ken was one of the first chemical engineers to join SRI. Starting in 1948, he worked in the Chemical Engineering Laboratory under Nevin Hiester and became the Manager of the Industrial Air Pollution Section. After a 4-year hiatus at Kaiser Engineers, Ken returned to SRI in 1963 to develop new Chemical Engineering Economics services for the Economics Division, which already offered the successful Chemical Economics Handbook. He recognized that the patent literature represented an untapped repository of technical information on which the design of chemical production plants could be based. Design and economic evaluation of chemical processes could thus be done independently of proprietary company information.
Until he retired in 1983, Ken Lunde wrote PEP reports, led and worked on single-client projects, traveled to market PEP, and recruited and administered the PEP staff. One of the keys to PEP’s success was Ken’s insistence that the PEP studies be conducted by experienced chemical engineers, preferably those with 15 or more years of design and operating experience in the chemical industry. He also devised the format for the reports, which has been followed uniformly ever since—along with the dark-green 7-ring binders, custom-made for each report.
Since 1976, the economics tables from the reports of the Process Economics Program have been assembled into a Yearbook, providing comparable cost data for the production of several hundred chemicals and polymers. The PEP Yearbook International gets thicker as the years go by. The PEP program has spawned other multiclient services, such as the Environmental Processes Handbook.
PEP has attracted (and outlasted) imitators. After 35 years, it still serves 70 to 80 clients each year. The program Ken Lunde started has spread SRI’s fame around the world.
Don Nielson represents that rare evolution of a highly successful technical person into a most human and respected manager of people. The labs and centers that Don managed are still very active and productive today. SRI’s preeminence in computer R & D and especially in modern computer science was greatly enhanced by Don’s many contributions, both technical and managerial.
Don came to SRI in 1959 as a Research Engineer under Ray Vincent, taking on assignments in telecommunications technology while working on his PhD at Stanford, which he received in 1969. He was named Assistant Director of the Telecom Department in 1973 and in 1978 became Director of the Telecommunications Science Center. In 1984, Don was named Vice President for the newly formed Computer Science and Technology Division.
One of the most important of SRI’s projects in high-speed networking was the Packet Radio project, sponsored by ARPA to provide reliable data communications. The big advantage of a radio-based packet-switched network was the speed of deployment and the resulting fault tolerance that could be achieved. Don—along with Ron Kunzelman and Stan Fralick—led this important program. They built the first ARPA packet-switched demonstration radio network in the San Francisco Bay Area, including one station mounted in a van, which could be demonstrated to visiting sponsors on the way to lunch.
Don supported the development of the first hand-held computer terminal with David Fylstra as project leader. This device could be used as a very small and lightweight portable telecom terminal. It was also developed into a phone terminal for the deaf.
When Don began his career at SRI, the heart of telecommunications technology was focused on analog hardware, mainly antennas, radio design, and telecom components. Don steered our telecom work to the more modern and sophisticated digitally based computer networks, where software development was the key. SRI’s preeminence in telecom technology throughout this transition was due largely to Don Nielson’s contributions—his technical knowledge, his management capabilities, and his foresight.