The inventor of facial recognition software was years ahead of the competition but never got credit for his work because it was kept secret by the CIA. The first VR glove was a groundbreaking piece of tech that would eventually become one of the gaming industry's biggest flops. And when Kodak execs were shown an early prototype of the first digital camera, they flat out rejected the idea.
In each episode of Ahead of Its Time, you'll explore the forgotten origins of today’s most transformative technology, hear from the people who first imagined it, delve into their past and relive their eureka moments.
Join host, podcast producer and queen of tech storytelling Julia Furlan to discover why these inventors struggled to get their ideas off the ground. Then meet the next generation of innovators who are building on the work of the tech underdogs who came before them.
Facial Recognition: How a forgotten AI pioneer, the CIA, and Google Glass are helping the visually impaired
Every person’s face is unique. We intuitively know that to be true. But what exactly makes your face different from another person? And how can we measure and quantify that difference to make the world more accessible for the visually impaired?
In this episode, journalist Shaun Raviv tells us how he uncovered the top secret history of facial recognition technology and its inventor, Woody Bledsoe. Then Karthik Kannan explains how a conversation with a group of visually impaired students inspired him to build glasses that can recognize human faces.
Electric Cars: The story of L.A. smog, a homemade scooter and the ultimate redemption
In an age where gas-powered vehicles account for nearly half of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, electric vehicles are a way to help slow global warming. Over the last decade, the EV industry grew by leaps and bounds and Tesla has arguably done more for the industry than any other company. But the next big thing for EVs… might be making them smaller.
In this episode, Wally Rippel remembers gazing out his classroom window at the air pollution hanging over LA one smoggy day and how that led to building what would become GM’s infamous EV1. Then Wim Ouboter recalls how his homemade push scooter started a chain of events that inspired him to build a miniature electric bubble car named the Microlino.
eBooks: A snack run and the Declaration of Independence changed the way we read
At our core, humans are storytellers. And books are one of the oldest technologies we use to document and preserve our stories. But the printed book has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years so it might just be ready for a makeover.
In this episode, Greg Newby tells us the story of his friend Michael Hart who, roused by an impressive display of fireworks one 4th of July, invented the eBook. Then Manolis Kelaidis explains how he designed a new print/digital hybrid book that got the attention of Penguin publishing and big Silicon Valley investors.
Solar Panels: A flashlight-powered windmill and electrifying the world’s most remote villages
In just one hour, the earth catches enough solar energy to power the world for a year. Big solar farms, home installations and increasingly efficient solar cells are slowly, but surely, converting more and more of the sun’s energy into electricity every year. And some of the poorest people, living in the most remote villages have helped usher in this new era of solar power.
In this episode, you'll hear how Calvin Fuller’s difficult childhood and adolescent interest in explosives catalyzed the invention of the first silicon solar cell. Then Bob Freling explains how witnessing the installation of a solar panel in a remote Chinese village changed his life forever.
WiFi & Wireless Comms: A Hollywood starlet’s quest to defeat Hitler led to lightbulbs that transmit the internet
There are over 20-billion connected wireless devices in the world today. So right now, whether you’re sitting on your couch or on your way to work, there are likely dozens of invisible WiFi signals all around you. But what if we didn’t get our data from WiFi routers?
In this episode, filmmaker Alexandra Dean tells the story of Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr and how she invented what became the basis for WiFi and wireless communication. Then Harald Haas explains how he’s reinventing wireless communication by turning light bulbs into wireless transmitters or, as he calls it, LiFi.
Cell Phones: The portable police radio and Apple’s secret project that changed the way we communicate
Your cell phone is more than just a phone. It’s your camera, address book, wallet, alarm clock, music player, map, newspaper… you get the point. And it’s changed how we interact with each other and how we navigate the world. And no cell phone has been quite as revolutionary as the iPhone.
In this episode, Marty Cooper relives the rivalry between Motorola and Bell for cellular supremacy and the historic call he made using the world’s first cell phone. Then Bas Ordering gives us a behind the scenes look into working with Steve Jobs at Apple and helping design the iPhone.