The people who make it happen (part four)

Your new-look Engineering & Technology first went to press a year ago and, to celebrate the anniversary, the editors here publish a list of who we believe to be 25 of the most influential figures in the world of engineering and technology today. Continued - part four.

John Housego

Engineering manager with a difference

"What you've got to remember about me is that I'm a PTFE geek". That's how John Housego of WL Gore Associates describes himself. The word 'geek' may be a little informal, but Housego works for an unconventional organisation. World famous for its breathable fabric used in outdoor gear, at WL Gore there are no managers, no employees, bosses, slaves or serfs. They're all associates, all working for one another, and Housego - originally a process engineer - is the team leader. On his business card it says 'Passionate Champion'.

"No one is more important than anyone else, because we're all contributing to the common good of the company". It may sound like management pie in the sky, but the figures speak for themselves. In half a century of trading Gore has never made an yearly loss, and currently turns over in excess of $2.5bn annually.

For many, the 'flat lattice' management structure at Gore comes as a real culture shock when the norm is the classic pyramid. By Housego's own admission it takes a bit of getting used to, and not everyone will flourish in an environment where the welfare of the individual is taken as seriously as the corporation's, where the rapid progression along a career path is not an option. Housego says: "I'd have never got this job in a normal company - I'd never have made it past the check list."

Gore's corporate philosophy is specifically geared to allow creativity. Every associate sets aside 10 per cent of their time for 'dabbling', a Gore word for blue-skies thinking. As a result of this way of working Gore-Tex was born - a product that really has revolutionised our relationship with the great outdoors. "Gore-Tex was a product we believed was going to change people's lives. It's just that people didn't know that they needed it. We decided we were going to have to teach them…"

The rest is history. For four consecutive years (2004-07) Gore UK ranked number one in the Sunday Times '100 best companies to work for.'

Jonathan Ive

Apple design guru

Currently senior vice president of industrial design at Apple, Jonathan Ive is the only industrial design engineer on our list. He owes his place due to his contribution to Apple's products, which have played a significant role in the company's renaissance in the computing and consumer technology sectors.

British-born Ive was already working in Apple's design department when Steve Jobs promoted him to his current position in 1997. Ive and his design team immediately stamped a common motif with the launch of the iMac, notable for its easy set-up, compactness and aesthetics.

The iPod in 2001 signified a change of direction for Apple (in design terms), and signalled that the company would become a force in consumer electronics. This was consolidated with the iPhone in 2007, now the best selling smartphone worldwide.

Ive was the winner of the Design Museum's inaugural Designer of the Year award in 2002. The Sunday Times named Ive as the third most influential British expatriate in 2005. In 2006, he received a CBE in the New Year's honours list. Earlier this year, the Daily Telegraph rated him the most influential Briton in America.

Victor Scheinman

Godfather of robotics

Victor Scheinman, a pioneer in the field of robotics, is proud to be a graduate of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "I say that because I think that it had a profound effect on my career, in that I feel I was able to apply my aerospace background to robot design, which included lightweight structures and good control systems," he told E&T.

While working at Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) in the late 1960s as a mechanical engineer, he attempted to design a mechanical robot arm, but as he explains: "I designed several hydraulic arms that were very fast, but which were very difficult to control and not really compatible with the computer environment." He then designed the Stanford Arm, a six-degrees of freedom all-electric mechanical manipulator that was one of the first robots designed exclusively for computer control.

In 1973, he was invited to join the AI lab at MIT to work with Marvin Minksy, who was running it. "He asked me to build the smallest robot that I could build that would still be practical," says Scheinman. "I designed what became the PUMA robot - it was a small robot with the mechanism weighing about 7kg - it had six degrees of freedom again."

The PUMA (Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly, or Programmable Universal Manipulation Arm) was the forerunner of the industrial robot.

Although Schienman is now semi-retired, he still carries out consultancy work and is working on his own designs to help with aged mobility vehicles as well designing improved renewable control systems.

He told E&T: "I consider myself to be a true robotisist, but I am more than that: I really feel that I am an engineer and I feel very strongly about that."

Bob Ballard

Exploring the oceans

Robert Ballard is one of the world's greatest living explorers, and a former commander in the US Navy, where he acted as a liaison between the Office of Naval Research and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

While in the navy he helped develop the submersible Alvin, which features two robotic arms and can be fitted with mission-specific sampling and experimental gear. After he left in 1970, he continued at Woods Hole, persuading people - mostly scientists - to fund and use the ROV Alvin for undersea research. He is perhaps most famous for the discoveries of the wrecks of the Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, and the wreck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in 1998.

However, his work with underwater technologies didn't end there as Ballard is still developing new technologies to bring the explored ocean depths to everybody from the scientist to the man in the street.

He is currently working on a system that will allow a range of experts to participate in a voyage without ever leaving their universities. "We are working on what we call 'experts on call' or 'doctors on call', where we are able to network scientists to the bottom of the ocean from consoles all over the US using Internet tube high-bandwidth fibre," he explains.

He tells E&T that he is also still involved in the development of underwater vehicles - this time an autonomous underwater vehicle or AUV with a company called Hydroid. However, he admits: "We are more into the total systems integration and to using whatever is possible to create that remote presence."

Dr Woo Paik

Pioneer of modern television

As E&T talks to Dr Paik, president and CTO of LG Electronics, he receives a call and he politely says, "Excuse me". He holds up his wrist to his mouth and takes the call. He is actually talking to his watch phone! Is this staged for my benefit? Not really. Dr Paik is intimately involved with all the technologies that his company, LG, develops. 

Dr Paik earns his place due to the pioneering work he has contributed to digital and high-definition technologies - many of which are now industry standards across the globe.

In fact, he is widely regarded in the consumer electronics industry as the 'father of HD' and sometimes the 'father of digital TV'. While working for General Instrument (now the broadband division of Motorola) in 1990, Paik demonstrated that TV signals can be transmitted digitally. His efforts led to digital terrestrial TV taking the place of the existing analogue system.

He joined General Instrument in 1978, and was one of the key inventors of the VideoCipher II system that became the de facto standard for the C-Band satellite video encryption system and is still in use by many cable programmers who have yet to migrate to digital transmission.

Dr Paik invented the digital video compression technology adopted by the Digital HDTV Grand Alliance, DigiCipher, which is now the basis for digital TV broadcasting in the US.

In his role as chief technology officer, he oversees ten R&D institutes around the world and employs more than 15,000 engineers. He joined LG in 1998 as president and CTO, a position he held for seven years. From 2004-07 he served as LG's chief technology adviser, based in the US, and he returned to LG headquarters in Seoul as president and CTO in January 2008 at the age of 59.

Dr Paik is most proud of what LG is currently working on. He says, "The work we are doing in mobile digital TV, pushing the boundary of 3D television and current HD television standards to 240Hz [on the NTSC standard] to eliminate motion blur will ensure we lead the industry in these fields."

In the future, Paik plans to focus the company on products in the burgeoning consumer health sector. "People are living longer and that's an area where we will be working," he predicts.

Prior to his arrival, LG, under its previous name of Goldstar, was mainly known as a budget consumer electronics goods manufacturer, with few resources devoted to innovation and style. In 1999, LG acquired Zenith Electronics of the United States. By 2005, LG was a Top 100 global brand and by 2006 it had become the world's largest plasma panel manufacturer. Its joint venture with Philips, LG Philips, is one of the largest manufacturers of liquid crystal displays.

Also in 2006, the company's mobile phone division, LG Mobile, launched the LG Chocolate phone, altering the company's image as a vendor of thick brick mobile phones. Its designs are so strong and distinct, it is often called described as the 'Apple' of the Far East.

In Korea, the role of engineer is revered and respected. Does Dr Paik believe that engineers in Europe and North America equally respected?

"I hope so," he says.

Concludes - part five

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This collection of the 25 most influential engineers and technology pioneers has divided the E&T office. Do you think there is a glaring omission? Vote for your top five or nominate your own figure in our online poll. Voters will be entered into a £100 prize draw.

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