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Notable 2015 deaths in technology, science & inventions

Bob Brown | Jan. 4, 2016
In memoriam: We mourn the passing of Gene Amdahl, Ralph Ungermann and other industry influencers.

Notable 2015 deaths in technology, science & inventions

The networking and computing world, as well as the worlds of science and inventions, lost well-known pioneers as well as younger movers and shakers during 2015. Here’s a brief look back at these people and their contributions.

Ralph Ungermann: Co-founder of Zilog, Ungermann-Bass (Died June 2, age 73)

Ungermann was a pioneer in both the PC industry via his 1974 co-founding of microprocessor maker Zilog and of the data communications industry via his 1978 launch of Ungermann-Bass, which Tandem Computers, and later Newbridge Networks, acquired. A serial entrepreneur, the Berkeley College-educated Ungermann also formed an ATM switching and multimedia networking company called First Virtual in 1994, before moving into the world of venture capital by co-founding a firm in Shanghai. In his obituary, Ungermann is quoted as having once said: " I like to pioneer things, create a space that does not exist. If you can imagine it, you can create it. It is much more fun and challenging to create an industry, than to follow someone else.”

Gene Amdahl: Mainframe architect (Died Nov. 10, age 92)

Worked on many IBM computers during two stints with Big Blue, but best known as chief architect of IBM System/360 mainframe and for later starting his own mainframe company that bore his name. Amdahl Corp., made faster and cheaper machines that were plug-compatible with IBM systems. Another claim to fame: Amdahl’s Law, which which says no matter how many processor cores you throw at a problem, there are some things you just can’t speed up. Full story.

Gene Amdahl
Gene Amdahl (photo via wikimedia) 

Don Featherstone: Designer of Pink Plastic Lawn Flamingos (Died June 22, age 79)

This Massachusetts artist created his signature bird back in 1957 while working for a products company that he eventually rose to lead. He produced hundreds of designs, including other plastic birds such as ducks, swans and ostriches, but it was the flamingos that took on a life of their own as lawn ornaments, and later inspiring everything from fundraisers to a Disney character. He once told the Chicago Tribune: “We sold people tropical elegance in a box for less than $10. Before that, only the wealthy could afford to have bad taste.”

Joseph Engelberger: Developed first industrial robot in United States (Died Dec. 1, age 90)

Working with patent holder George Devol in the 1950s1960s, Engelberger built the Unimate, a robotic arm used on a General Motors assembly line. Together, they started the world’s first robot manufacturer, Unimation. Engelberger’s robotics expertise earned him gigs with NASA, Japanese scientists and with a company building robots for use in hospitals, according to a New York Times obituary.


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