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Irwin Jacobs: Captain of CDMA

Qualcomm cofounder Irwin M. Jacobs wins the 2013 IEEE Medal of Honor for his pioneering work in digital communications

10 min read
Irwin M. Jacobs, chief executive officer of Qualcomm
Photo: Gregg Segal

It was September 1989, and the cellphone industry was booming. Companies were building new towers as fast as they could, using the prevailing analog technology, but they were encountering problems with capacity and quality of service. Earlier that year, the industry had decided to move to digital transmission using time-division multiple access. TDMA shared the airwaves by slicing up each available frequency channel into time slots. A caller's phone transmitted digitized signals in short bursts during the slot assigned to the handset. It wasn't a particularly efficient use of the broadcast spectrum, but it worked. 


Irwin M. Jacobs, chief executive officer of what was a little San Diego company called Qualcomm, believed he had a better approach. He wanted to take an idea then being used for ­secure military communications—Code Division Multiple ­Access, or CDMA—and adapt it to commercial cellphone networks, which would allow multiple conversations to share the same frequencies at the same time. He knew this technology could serve many more customers with fewer towers. But an awful lot of people didn't believe he could pull this off, and time was running out. The more companies and consumers purchased TDMA equipment, the harder it would be for a new technology to gain a foothold.


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Video Friday: Humanoid Soccer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
Humans and human-size humanoid robots stand together on an indoor soccer field at the beginning of a game

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON

Enjoy today’s videos!

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Array of devices on a chip

This analog electrochemical memory (ECRAM) array provides a prototype for artificial synapses in AI training.

IBM research

How far away could an artificial brain be? Perhaps a very long way off still, but a working analogue to the essential element of the brain’s networks, the synapse, appears closer at hand now.

That’s because a device that draws inspiration from batteries now appears surprisingly well suited to run artificial neural networks. Called electrochemical RAM (ECRAM), it is giving traditional transistor-based AI an unexpected run for its money—and is quickly moving toward the head of the pack in the race to develop the perfect artificial synapse. Researchers recently reported a string of advances at this week’s IEEE International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM 2022) and elsewhere, including ECRAM devices that use less energy, hold memory longer, and take up less space.

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This Gift Will Help Your Aspiring Engineer Learn Technology

Know someone that is hard to shop for? We have the perfect gift for you.

4 min read