Happy August

Richard Gate - Technical Lead for ObjectSpectrum

August 1, 2022

The summer is here, so Happy August! To celebrate my wife’s birthday this month and the fact that it’s Inventors Month too, I’d like to dedicate this month’s blog post to things that hit the world in August that have had some effect on IoT. A number of these are not a direct hit on IoT, but were enablers along the road.

National Inventors Month
So, if you search for this there does seem to be some confusion between it being in May or August but I vote for August because it fits my theme this month and without Inventors where would IoT be? Nowhere, obviously! So, what IoT related Inventions were born in August? (This is by no means a complete list, but a lot seems to have happened in August—must be the heat).

Communication, very much a building block for IoT

  • August 5, 1858: The first transatlantic telegraph cable was completed by Cyrus West Field and others, after several failed attempts, which only ran for less than a month.
  • August 16, 1858: Queen Victoria sends the first official telegraph message across the Atlantic Ocean from London to United States President James Buchanan, in Washington D.C.
  • August 11, 1942: The Actor Hedy Lamarr, also a talented inventor, collaborated with George Antheil, to patent a secret frequency-hopping communication system that was far too advanced for its time but served as the basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology e.g., WiFi.
  • August 3, 1960: Bell Laboratories conducted a US coast-to-coast telephone conversation by “bouncing” voices off the Moon. Then on August 12, 1960, the “Echo I” communications satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It bounced phone calls from Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California to the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. Busy month for Bell Laboratories.
  • August 4, 1991: The first email message was sent from space (the shuttle Atlantis) to earth (the Johnson Space Center). The test was part of a larger project to develop computer and communications systems for space stations. Luckily, nobody felt the need to offer the recipient $50m in exchange for their bank account details.
  • August 6, 1991: Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN, posted a brief summary of his idea for the World Wide Web project. The first public mention of the project. Was it really that recent? Come on well though, hasn’t it!

Data Display Device, what’s the point of IoT is you can display the results!

  • August 31, 1897: Thomas Edison patented a kinetographic camera. An early step towards electrotonic cameras and display devices.
  • August 20, 1930: Inventor Philo Farnsworth patented his “Television System”, the first working all-electronic system for both the pickup and display devices of that will become the modern television set.
  • August 6, 1935: William Coolidge obtained a patent for the cathode ray tube, a critical ingredient of Television and other electronic applications but strange how this was patented five years after the “Television System”.

Computing, the next part in the puzzle

  • August 21, 1888: William Burroughs received a patent for the first practical adding and listing machine, also known as a calculator. What ever happened to Burroughs?
  • August 7, 1944: The world’s first program-controlled calculator, popularly called the Harvard Mark I, was inaugurated. The machine was built by Harvard researcher Howard Aiken and supported by IBM. Whatever happened to them?
  • August 12, 1981: The IBM Personal Computer model 5150 was announced. The first IBM PC featured a 4.77MHz Intel 8088 CPU containing 29,000 transistors, 16KB or 64KB RAM (expandable to 256KB), 40KB ROM, one or two 5.25-inch floppy drives (160KB capacity), a mono display, and an optional cassette drive. Yes, that’s what happened to them.

Hook it all together with sensor devices and software, and you have IoT. I expect the rest of the overall system came about in other months of the year. I may have mentioned the BBC TV Technology documentary series “Connections” (hosted by James Burke in the late 1970s) before, but I mention it here because of the way it shows how seemingly unrelated inventions link up over time to make the bigger stuff. All these bits and bobs have done that for IoT.