Then and now

That's Ivan Sutherland holding the great-granddaddy of today's Mobots. Long before his pioneering work in computer graphics, Sutherland (E'59, H'03) was interested in robots that could navigate mazes and react to stimuli much as an animal would.

Recipient of the A.M. Turing Award in 1988 and many other professional honors, Sutherland is currently a visiting scientist at Portland State University. In June, he received the Inamori Foundation's 2012 Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology for his achievements in computer graphics and interface design.

As students in the New York City suburbs, Sutherland and his older brother, Bert, took jobs working for ACM co-founder Edmund Berkeley. Impressed by their enthusiasm and intelligence, Berkeley provided both funding and guidance for their experiments. After Berkeley built a robot called "Squee" that could chase and retrieve tennis balls, the Sutherlands designed two of their own "mechanical animals."

Ivan Sutherland's third such robot, completed during his senior year at Carnegie Tech, was Machina versatilis, shown here with its inventor. With sensors and guidance mechanisms powered by 36 transistors using 10 flashlight batteries, M. versatilis was able to "chase lights, squeal appealingly when it bumps something, and attempt to avoid the obstacle," according to a contemporary description written by Sutherland.

Sutherland went onto develop Sketchpad, the world's first computer drawing program, as well as pioneering work on early virtual-reality displays and many 2D and 3D imaging techniques. But he returned to studying "mechanical animals" at CMU in the early 1980s, when he designed and built a six-legged, hydraulically powered walker large enough to carry a passenger. 
--Jason Togyer (DC'96)
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Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 |