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Pioneering in Electronics

Chapter Ten - New Methods, New Devices, New Services

In the summer of 1955, an archeologist dug into the RCA Laboratories property at Princeton and unearthed a camp site occupied by a tribe of Stone Age hunters perhaps 3,000 years ago. Several relics from the site, including pointed flints, crude artifacts and bits of pottery, were placed on display in the entrance hall of the David Sarnoff Research Center. The collection brought a chuckle from a government representative who stopped by the research center one afternoon.

“I can’t wait to get the word back to Washington,” he said. “They told me you folks had branched out a lot here—but they didn’t mention arrowheads.”

The RCA research program had indeed branched out considerably since World War II. The extension of effort was partly in response to the new postwar application of electronics to a multitude of industrial, domestic and military activities. It also responded to the need for new knowledge and new techniques to maintain RCA leadership in an increasingly competitive industry, and to continue the advance of electronic science generally. These points had been emphasized by General [David] Sarnoff in a statement to the Radio Manufacturers Association in 1947: (p. 253)

The industry does not pick up where it left off before the war. . . The radio manufacturer is the logical producer of radio-heating equipment, radar, loran, shoran, teleran, and hundreds of allied radio-electronic devices. He must push on to new ventures. To be successful he must not only manufacture, but he must encourage research to create new methods, new devices, new services.

With this type of encouragement from the corporate management, the research organization undertook a broad program of which the television effort was but a single aspect. The bulk of the work was directed toward the “new methods, new devices, and new services” cited by General Sarnoff.

Initially, this was a matter of adapting the wartime advances to peacetime use while laying the groundwork for further progress through research of a more fundamental character. Only in this way was it possible to resume the forward course that, as [RCA Laboratories director Elmer] Engstrom had pointed out, was largely blocked by a dearth of basic knowledge. Such fundamental work, carried forward energetically at RCA Laboratories and elsewhere, succeeded within a few short years in transforming electronic science by means of new materials and techniques. In short, evolution became revolution, and the revolution is still in progress.

Under these circumstances, the account of RCA’s postwar research is most conveniently divided into two principal categories. In the first are the devices, systems and techniques of a “conventional” nature. These incorporate principles that were relatively familiar by the end of World War II, as in the case of television. The second category comprises the ingredients of the electronic revolution—the devices, systems and techniques (p. 254) that either have resulted from or have been radically altered by new knowledge acquired in postwar fundamental research, particularly in the field of electronically-active solid materials.

The first category was to give way largely, but not entirely, to the second in terms of total research effort. But its course was marked by a continuing series of notable results, especially in the first post war decade, in such diverse areas as electronic computing techniques, special-purpose electron tubes and high-fidelity and stereophonic sound systems.


The wartime pioneering work by Vance, Goldberg and their associates in electronic fire-control systems pointed directly into a field of particular promise in the immediate postwar period. The advent of guided missiles in warfare raised new and complex problems of design, guidance and control, calling for something new in the way of systems to aid in their solution.

A specific challenge was raised in 1946 by the Navy’s desire for an electronic computer that would eliminate the considerable expense and effort entailed in building and firing actual missiles in order to test various possible designs. Under contract to the Navy, the RCA Laboratories group produced an outstanding solution in the Typhoon, a guided missile simulator whose debut in 1950 marked a notable advance in the field of analogue computers. (p. 255)

The Navy contract called for two results: first, the construction of a rapid and precise computer that would simulate in detail the flight of a missile of given design under varying conditions; and second, the development of simple and effective elements for analogue computers, for application to simulators, testers, and guidance and control systems.

The achievement took nearly four years of concentrated effort by a team of eight research staff members, supported through untold hours by technicians, draftsmen, and model makers. Shown publicly at Princeton in November 1950, the system was contained in 53 oversize racks of equipment incorporating more than 4,000 electron tubes and their associated circuits. A feature of special interest was a set of super-regulated power supplies providing a stability of .001 per cent for the mathematical operations of the system.

Housed in a large air-conditioned room in Laboratory 3, Typhoon demonstrated its speed and versatility by working out a complex air-defense problem employing a theoretical guided missile. In one minute, it performed a task that, in the words of the group report, “a mathematician and an assistant could not do as well in six months of work.”

The function, size, and speed of Typhoon, together with the advances which it represented in the design and correlation of computer elements, justify its description as the most spectacular application of “conventional” techniques to emerge from RCA Laboratories in the early postwar years. Furthermore, the successful accomplishment of the objectives laid down by the Navy paved the (p. 256) way for continuing systems development work of a related nature for the armed forces by Vance and his associates.

The design and development of complete systems for direct delivery to the military services or to industrial clients was, however, a departure from the general pattern of research at Princeton. In the great majority of cases, basic principles were explored and applied to experimental devices and techniques which then moved into the product divisions for further development.

Something New in Electron Tubes

One of the more important technical legacies of the war was the extension of the useful frequency range far beyond the prewar limits, achieved through the development of increasingly sophis­ticated electron tube devices. Having pioneered in tube development prior to and during the war, RCA Laboratories logically allocated a share of the postwar research program to a continuation of this work along the more advanced lines. One of the beneficiaries, as we have seen, was the television art. But there were equally significant results in more specialized fields, best illustrated by the development of effective storage tubes and low-noise traveling-wave tubes for microwave communications.

Basically, a storage tube is a vacuum device in which an electrical signal can be stored and “recalled” for retransmission or for visual display. The principle is a handy one for such functions as converting from one scanning rate or frequency to another, retaining a picture for continued observation, or obtaining a delay in transmission. Both the Iconoscope and the (p. 257) Image Orthicon used for television pickup are types of storage tubes, since they employ a target to accumulate the maximum amount of light information in the form of electrical signals which are stored long enough to be read out by the scanning process.

During the war, the storage principle had been extremely important in radar. A pioneer RCA effort in this field, by R. L. Snyder, was the Radechon tube, a descendant of the Iconoscope. The Radechon employed a special target on which incoming radar information was stored and compared with incoming information from the next scan. The tube then cancelled any signals that remained unchanged, so that the only signals passed on to the cathode-ray display tube were those corresponding to moving targets.

The Radechon entered production toward the end of the war as the first in a series of notable storage tube developments at Princeton. Next in chronological sequence was the Storage Orthicon, devised by Stanley Forgue as a special pickup tube for use in the Teleran air navigation system. Employing a special large-capacity target, the Storage Orthicon picked up and amplified the dim image appearing on the radar screen for transmission to aircraft as a television picture of the radar information.

In 1947, the Storage Orthicon was superseded by a new and more effective device known as the Graphecon. Developed by [Louis] Pensak with the Teleran application in mind, the Graphecon employed a new type of target and a novel scanning system incorporating a high-velocity electron beam for “writing” the signal information, (p. 258) and a low-velocity beam for “reading.” Working directly from an incoming radar signal, the Graphecon eliminated the intermediate visual pickup stage in which the Storage Orthicon had been used.

Pensak followed this development with an even more versatile tube, the Metrechon. Completed as a laboratory model in 1951, the Metrechon incorporated an improved “writing” and “reading” process that permitted the read-out of information from the target without causing the stored information to deteriorate. Furthermore, the Metrechon could transmit signals corresponding to half­tones in a picture, in contrast to previous tubes which had been limited to on-off information corresponding to black and white only. In radar applications, the Metrechon turned out to be a highly effective device for amplifying dim signals through the process of storage and repeated scanning to build up the image on the cathode-ray display tube.

The Metrechon, like its predecessors, produced its output in the form of electrical signals. It was recognized at the laboratories that there was further need for a storage tube that could provide a bright and prolonged visual display of patterns, oscillographs, or pictures, written in a small fraction of a second. The project was taken on by Max Knoll and a group of associates including Benjamin Kazan, Harvey Hook, and R. P. Stone. Working with Signal Corps support, the group achieved by 1953 a direct-view storage tube that displayed radar images more than 1,000 times brighter than those appearing on conventional radar screens, and retained them over a long period for continued viewing. (p. 259)

The new tube opened the way for the first time to the presen­tation of radar information bright enough to be viewed in full daylight on a compact display screen in the cockpit of a plane or on the bridge of a ship. Its added ability to hold the image for an extended period was an extremely useful feature in many research and engineering applications as well as in radar. With the principle effectively established, Knoll and his associates carried on with the development of larger and improved tubes, including a projection type designed for use with a lens system in a large-screen viewing system developed at Camden.

The series of postwar storage tube developments that culminated in the direct-view device represents a notable contribution to electron tube technology. Carried forward through the engineering and product design stages by the staff at Lancaster for military and commercial application, they have added new versatility to radar and have found important uses in electronic computing systems.

A second, and perhaps even more important, tube research program at Princeton was directed at supplying the postwar need for low-noise amplifiers that would pass frequency bands of 20 megacycles or more at frequencies from 3,000 megacycles on up into the super-high-frequency range. Performances of this order were essential for more effective radar and for improved microwave radio relay systems. The device that offered greatest promise was the traveling-wave tube. (p. 260)

The concept of the traveling-wave tube had originated with [Nils] Lindenblad at the Rocky Point Laboratory, in connection with the television relay system demonstrated on Long Island in 1940. This important contribution was not too widely recognized at the time, perhaps because the work had been accomplished outside of the tube research environment. Under these circumstances, the traveling-wave tube was, in effect, re-invented in a number of laboratories as the war ended, and the value of the principle was more widely appreciated.

The traveling-wave tube is a relatively complex device bearing no physical resemblance to any other electron tube. Within its long slender glass envelope are an electron gun and a lengthy helix, or spiral winding. In operation, the radio frequency signal is sent along the helix, while an electron beam is projected from the gun through the length of the tube, along the axis of the helix. The interaction between the electrons in the beam and the signal in the helix causes substantial amplification of the signal. In its earlier forms, the tube was surrounded by magnets employed to focus the electron beam.

The traveling-wave tube project was initiated at RCA Laboratories under Herold immediately after the war. Continuing over the next decade and on to the present, the effort was helped along with substantial contributions from a long list of specialists, among whom have been Rolf Peter, W. J. Dodds, Stanley Kaisel, Margaret Heagy, Stanley Bloom, Walter Beam, Kern K. N. Chang, Ronald C. Knechtli, Fritz E. Paschke, and others. Starting with the first (p. 261) laboratory model that met the specifications of frequency and bandwidth but produced an inordinate amount of noise, the combined efforts of the research team had contrived by 1952 to achieve unparalleled results in low-noise amplification.

The progress at Princeton attracted the lively interest of the armed services, and a number of tubes with associated equipment were built for use in radar systems at the Naval Research Laboratory. By 1954, close cooperation between the RCA Laboratories team and the Microwave Development group at Harrison had enabled the Tube Division to undertake sample quantity production of low-noise traveling-wave tube amplifiers operating at 3,000 and 6,000 megacycles.

To achieve even better results, the research effort was concentrated subsequently upon a set of fundamental problems involving the reduction of noise, an increase of power output and efficiency, and improved focusing techniques. Beam and Knechtli, in particular, achieved notable results in the study of noise along an electron beam, leading to substantial improvements in the device during 1955 and 1956.

Even with the more recent appearance of low-noise masers and parametric amplifiers employing solid-state effects, the traveling-wave tube has remained important because it offers wider bandwidth, greater stability, and higher power than can be obtained simultaneously in the other devices. Research and development at the laboratories and the tube division have enabled RCA to maintain a strong position in traveling-wave tube technology in the 1960s. Among the advances have been lightweight (p. 262) traveling-wave tubes using electrostatic focusing instead of heavy magnets, developed by Chang and others for possible airborne and related applications in which weight is a consideration. More recently. Bloom, J[acob]. M. Hammer, and their associates have demonstrated a technique that employs low-temperature cooling to reduce the noise factor in a standard traveling-wave tube for the first time to a level competitive with the low-noise performance of the solid-state devices. (p. 262A)

The storage tube and the traveling-wave tube are bright examples of the broad advances achieved in the postwar RCA Laboratories tube research program. They were far from being the only results. Other examples of importance during the same period included:

— Increasingly sensitive multiplier phototubes developed by George Morton, John Ruedy and others for scientific and industrial application. Capable of detecting and measuring events that happened in hundredths of a billionth of a second, these tubes have found wide use in scintillation counters for nuclear research. One such tube played a key role in the historic first detection of the anti-proton at the University of California in 1955.

— New and improved types of gas-filled rectifier and switching tubes developed by Edward O. Johnson, William Webster, [Louis] Malter, and others. Among these were the Plasmatron, offering high-current and low-voltage operation for rectification and other functions, and improved thyratron tubes for high-speed switching.

— New and versatile display tubes for direct high-speed printing, such as the Compositron developed by Warren Bliss for potential use in the output stage of electronic data processing systems, and the thin-window tube developed by Roger Olden specifically for direct printing at high speeds in combination with the “Electrofax” system, which will be discussed in a later section of this account.

At present writing, many RCA Laboratories tube contributions are passing from research to product development and commercial application. (p. 263) Others are being superseded or radically altered by new techniques and devices resulting from discoveries that will be treated in the context of solid-state research.

New and Better Sounds

One evening in the summer of 1946, a large company of unsuspecting music lovers assembled at the concert bowl in Tanglewood, near Lenox, Massachusetts, for a Berkshire Music Festival performance by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The program began in conventional style. Many listeners relaxed with their eyes closed to absorb the majestic harmonies pouring from the concert stage. Those who kept their eyes open witnessed a surprising development midway through a selection early in the program. They continued to hear the music, but conductor Koussevitsky and the orchestra were no longer performing. They had stopped to listen too, with evident enjoyment.

At the end of the selection, the secret was disclosed—an array of new RCA duo-cone speakers strung across the stage behind the footlights, reproducing from a high-fidelity recording the number which the orchestra itself had started playing.

The Tanglewood derhonstration was perhaps the most dramatic moment in postwar RCA research in a third major area of “conventional” electronics. The effective work of [Harry F.] Olson and his associates (p. 264) in acoustical techniques had resulted in numerous advances before and during the war. With the return of peace in 1945, the prospect of widespread FM [frequency modulation] broadcasting, bigger and better sound movies, and increased home listening to phonographs and radios laid out an array of objectives sufficient to keep the group busy for an indefinite period ahead.

More than any other field of research with the possible exception of television, this was one in which a large and ready demand existed for just about any innovation or improvement that could be conceived in the laboratory, or beyond the laboratory in the engineering groups. A notable example of the latter is the remarkable success of the 45-rpm recording system and the “45” record player, developed by A[lan]. D. Burt, B[enjamin]. R. Carson and others at Camden and introduced commercially for the first time in 1949. At the laboratories in Princeton, Olson and his associates were ready to enter this receptive postwar environment with one of the outstanding advances in high-fidelity sound reproduction.

During 1944, Olson and [John] Preston had developed a new type of loudspeaker intended for professional use in broadcast monitoring. The unit was equipped with two concentric, conical diaphragms and two voice coils to reproduce audio frequencies from an extremely low range up to the high-fidelity level of 15,000 cycles per second. This level of performance had been achieved before only with elaborate sound systems—never with a single, compact speaker. (p. 265)

By 1946, the device—now called the duo-cone speaker—was ready for its demonstration by the RCA Victor Division at Tanglewood, with the results noted above. In addition to the speakers themselves, the demonstration system included in the pickup stage a noise-suppressor technique also developed at Princeton to eliminate the reproduction of record noise. As a consequence, the recording made earlier by the Boston Symphony replaced the per­formance of the orchestra itself during the course of the music, with little perceptible change. To conductor Koussevitsky, to the orchestra members, and to leading music critics at the per­formance, the reproduction was “practically perfect.” With this send-off, the duo-cone speaker entered the commercial market as the RCA model LC1A, to become a standard component in virtually all high-fidelity monitoring equipment employed by broadcasters.

The trend toward higher fidelity in sound demanded improvement in the pickup as well as the reproducing elements of the sound system. In particular, there was an urgent need for smaller, more sensitive and more highly directional microphones for both television and motion picture application. Meeting the need became a principal concern for Preston, John Bleazey, and Everett May. After 1947, they were responsible with Olson for a series of outstanding microphone developments that contributed—and still is contributing—to the steady improvement of sound pickup under all conditions.

One notable achievement in this continuing program was the Starmaker, conceived by Preston in response to the need for a sensitive pickup device that could be used before the television (p. 266) camera without concealing the features of the performer. The device became the standard television studio microphone after its introduction in 1949.

Two years later, the group produced the first uniaxial microphone, so called because of its unidirectional sensitivity and the fact that the axis of maximum pickup coincided with the axis of the tubular case. The new type was the first in a continuing series of microphones developed especially for long-distance television and motion picture pickup either indoors or out.

One of the happier characteristics of the uniaxial microphone was its ruggedness, an essential attribute in the type of work for which it was designed. The movie makers, seeking added realism in film sounds, had graduated from the .22-caliber to the .45-caliber revolver to produce a satisfactory bang in the multitude of Westerns and other productions featuring gunplay.

To test the new microphone’s ability to take this type of punishment, the acoustical group obtained a supply of .45-caliber blanks and invited Chief Maher, of the RCA Laboratories guard force, to fire them within microphone range. The tests were started in the listening room on the first floor at  (p. 267) the research center. The microphone withstood the blasts admirably at ranges of as little as five feet. The personnel, however, turned out to be less rugged, and the subsequent tests were moved outdoors. When the shooting subsided, the uniaxial microphone was ready to go into business as the new standard motion picture pickup device, now widely used and supplemented by a variety of further refined and specialized types that have since emerged from the acoustical laboratory at Princeton

The field of acoustics is almost as broad and varied as electronics itself. A prolific acoustical research group, working with appropriate facilities, produces a multitude of useful devices and techniques beyond its output of pickup and reproduction developments. The record of the group at the David Sarnoff Research Center is illustrative.

Item: a system for drastically reducing sound distortion caused by the difference in shape between the cutter used in making stereophonic records and the stylus used to play them on home phonographs. The new method was introduced commercially in 1962 in the manufacture of RCA Victor “Dynagroove” records.

Item: a vibrating-plate viscometer produced by J. Guy Woodward to provide industry with a novel and rapid means for measuring the viscosity of liquids.

Item: an electronic sound absorber, developed by Olson and May, to combat low-frequency sounds associated with many types of motors.

Item: a variety of sensitive phonograph pickup elements designed for the RCA Victor high-fidelity line.

Item: new ultra-miniature loudspeakers of ingenious design for pocket-size transistor radio receivers.

Item: (p. 268) the electronic music synthesizer, ranking second only to the Typhoon missile simulator as the largest single assembly to emerge from the David Sarnoff Research Center.

The synthesizer was the result of about five years of research and development work by Herbert Belar and Olson. What they achieved was a large-scale assembly capable of producing any known or imaginable sound, and operated by a coded record controlling its array of relays, oscillators, modulators, filters and other circuit components.

With the development of the synthesizer in the early 1950s, it became possible to create electronically new types of music beyond the capabilities of existing instruments, or to re-create any instrumental or orchestral renditions. Announced publicly by General Sarnoff in early 1955, the synthesizer caused a stir in musical circles, leading inevitably to a lively debate among the cognoscenti as to the comparative virtues of electronic and “live” music.

To its originators, to General Sarnoff, and to many music critics, the synthesizer offered considerable promise as a new source of recorded music and as an infinitely flexible tool for musical research. It is in the latter role that the system is principally active today. Following the demonstration of the first synthesizer, a second improved model was assembled (p. 269) by Belar and his associates for initial experiments at Princeton. The advanced unit was later installed at Columbia University for use in a joint Columbia-Princeton University musical research program sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.

As an example of electronic translation of information from one form to another, the synthesizer might hold the record for novelty except for one further significant development within Olson’s group. This is the phonetic typewriter, an experimental step toward systems that may ultimately turn spoken instructions into mechanical actions and vice versa. Developed by Belar and Olson to explore the principle of voice-controlled electronic operation, the first phonetic typewriter was capable of typing a dozen or more syllables spoken into a microphone. Subsequently, the knowledge gained through tests of the pioneer typewriter was applied in the development of a larger and more versatile speech-processing system. This more elaborate—but still rudimentary—system was publicly demonstrated for the first time in 1962. It incorporated equipment that analyzed spoken words, converted them to type in the same language or other languages, and reconverted them to speech sounds.

Health and Safety

An especially bright aspect of the swift expansion of electronic technology has been the development of new techniques and equipment to enhance personal health and safety.. We already have met certain examples resulting from RCA research—the electron microscope and the television microscope for use in medical research, closed-circuit television systems for instruction and diagnosis, and numerous radio and radar aids to navigation and safety at sea and in the air. (p. 270)

The broad flow of useful results from RCA research and engineering through the 1940s and 1950s offers further examples, some of which, in retrospect, have little apparent relationship to the mainstream of the corporation’s technical program. The fact illustrates again the happy tendency of an able and well-supported scientific and engineering organization to produce unpredicted useful results in addition to meeting planned objectives.

Medical electronics is only now developing as a technology in its own right, laying out broad objectives to be achieved by the scientists and engineers in cooperation with medical specialists. The earlier contributions of electronics to medicine and to human health have tended to appear on a piecemeal basis. This is the case with at least two pioneering contributions by RCA scientists—a new technique for penicillin production, and the early development of reading aids for the blind.

The penicillin technique was developed as a result of wartime research in radio-frequency heating by George H. Brown and his associates, including R[udolph]. A. Bierwirth and Cyril N. Hoyler. At the time, penicillin was making its initial appearance as a powerful new weapon against battlefield infection and certain bacterial diseases. The production process, however, was far too slow and difficult to accommodate more than a fraction of the urgent demand. A critical point in the process was the removal of water from the penicillin after it had been separated in a solution. Brown’s group studied the process and devised a method of using radio­frequency heating to dry the penicillin far more efficiently and (p. 271) economically. On the heels of this development, and before it could be applied on more than a limited basis, Brown and Wendell Morrison worked out an even more effective method, more chemical than electronic.

Brown found that the use of butyl alcohol and other ingredients resulted in the quick separation of pure penicillin from the impurities in the solution, and that heating the purified substance in a light vacuum produced pure penicillin crystals that could be stored for months at room temperature. The improved technique offered major advantages in speed and simplicity. With certain variations, it went into widespread use within a short period and remains today the basis for the commercial production process.

Research into electronic reading equipment for the blind was started soon after the war by L[eslie]. E. Flory and Winthrop Pike, in Zworykin’s group at Princeton. The project was sponsored at the start by the Army Medical Corps, and subsequently by the Veterans Administration, under the administration of the Committee on Sensory Devices of the National Research Council. As a first approach, the RCA group developed a small pencil-shaped device with which the blind reader scanned each line on a printed page, in the manner of the eye in conventional reading. As the device passed each letter, a light spot scanned the letter rapidly and converted its characteristic shape into a distinctive audible tone. In laboratory tests of the device, a blind person read up to twenty words a minute from specially prepared material after a laborious process of learning to associate the sounds with the letters. (p. 272)  

The difficulty of learning the sounds led Flory and Pike to devise a more complex system using certain electronic computer techniques. In this larger device, letters were scanned at high speed by a light spot, and the reflected light was received and amplified by a photomultiplier tube. The signals proceeded from the tube to a computer-like matrix in which the distinctive signal pattern for each letter was “recognized” and directed to the proper output circuit, The final stage comprised a sound-reproducing system which included a collection of individual letter sounds on small rotating disks, and a mechanism for selecting the one sound corresponding to the output signal from the matrix. It was believed that further development of the system could lead to the production of phonetic sounds corresponding to complete words on the printed page, relieving the blind reader of the learning burden imposed by the earlier method.

The work was put aside in 1948 at the expiration of the government project, although the RCA Laboratories equipment was subsequently evaluated at the University of Michigan in connection with the exploration of the learning process. More recently, interest in the system has been revived by the Veterans Administration and others. Aside from the possible application in blind reading, the second system devised by Flory and Pike was significant in another respect: it was perhaps the first electronic character recognition method ever developed, using principles that have become increasingly important in electronic computer technology. (p. 273)

With the growth of medical electronics as a distinct new technology in recent years, RCA contributions have come increasingly from engineering advances based upon earlier research, rather than from new studies and inventions in the laboratory. Many of these have been instigated by Zworykin, who became director of medical electronics at the Rockefeller Institute as well as a consultant to RCA following his official retirement in 1954.

Among the principal achievements in this field have been the “radio pill” and ultraviolet aids to microscopy. The “radio pill,” a miniature FM transmitter, was designed to be swallowed by a patient and to transmit information as to pressure and other conditions on its passage through the body. Developed by RCA engineers at Camden in collaboration with medical specialists at the Rockefeller Institute and the Veterans Administration Hospital in New York, the device was first demonstrated in 1957.

In the field of medical microscopy, a major advance was the ultraviolet color-translating microscope, developed by Zworykin, Carl Berkeley and others, and installed at the Rockefeller Institute in New York during 1958. Employing a combination of ultraviolet and color television techniques, the system permitted the viewing of live microscopic specimens in color, without the use of stains that are normally fatal to living organisms. A related development in 1958 was the “Ultrascope,” an ultraviolet attachment for a standard light microscope, developed by engineers of the RCA Electron Tube Division on the basis of earlier RCA Laboratories research in ultraviolet techniques. (p. 274)

The matter of human safety as distinct from health, has had perhaps an even longer history in RCA research and engineering programs, going back to the shipboard radio installations of the Radiomarine Corporation of America in the 1920s, the airborne radar and omni-directional range contributions of the 1930s, and the Teleran system of the immediate postwar era. With the return of peace in 1945, wartime advances in radar were put to widespread use in meeting the needs of commercial sea and air transportation. Here again, as in the case of medical applications, major RCA contributions were made by the engineering groups of the product divisions, drawing upon research of earlier years at RCA Laboratories. An outstanding example is the pioneering aircraft weather radar system introduced in 1956 by RCA Defense Electronic Products and subsequently adopted by many leading airlines for increased safety and comfort in air travel.

From the laboratories, however, came a new idea—an electronic system for control of vehicles on the highway. Conceived by Zworykin in the early 1950s, the electronic highway system was developed under his direction at the David Sarnoff Research Center by Flory, Pike, and George Gray, and put to its first test in a section of highway at Lincoln, Nebraska, in October, 1957, in cooperation with the Nebraska State Highway Department.

The system was conceived with an eye to the complete automation of driving on main highways in the future, and with more limited applications to enhance driving safety today. Its basic elements were wire loops buried in the pavement, each associated with a simple detector circuit. The passage of any vehicle over a loop (p. 275)

caused a variation in the current flowing through the wire, and the variation was translated by means of the detector unit into any of a number of desired actions. By this means, it became possible to perform many routine operations automatically, ranging from the operation of traffic lights or speed measurement devices to the transmission of radio signals to operate automatic controls in appropriately equipped vehicles.

After the Nebraska tests, Zworykin’s group developed simplified transistorized detector units for the system and supervised the construction of a completely equipped highway test track on the grounds of the David Sarnoff Research Center for exhaustive further tests. The General Motors Corporation furnished passenger cars equipped with automatic controls capable of responding to the signals generated in the road. The system was successfully demonstrated to Federal, state, and municipal highway authorities by RCA and General Motors at Princeton in 1959.

While the total electronic highway concept still lies some years away from practical application, the elements have started to perform useful tasks. The vehicle detector units were put into commercial production by RCA in 1960, and many of them were purchased and installed by cities and states for vehicle counting, signal control, and various continuing experimental programs.

The Changing Environment

This hasty review of laboratory achievements from the Typhoon to the electronic highway has attempted to highlight rather than to describe in detail the postwar course of “conventional’ electronic research at RCA Laboratories. In the historical sense, the various achievements in television, computing systems, electron (p. 276) tubes and acoustical and other devices had become, by the mid-1950s, a group of hardy perennials in a research environment that was changing all around them.

In this new environment, the whole of electronic science would be transformed in the most basic sense, providing a new direction for research and extending the functions of electronics into virtually all areas of human activity. How this transformation came about, and the consequences to which it has so far led, are subjects which comprise fresh chapters in electronics and in RCA research. . . (p. 277)

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