Paul Baran

Electrical Engineering
Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science
Com21 Incorporated │ Atherton, California
Development of packet-switching, foundation of the Internet

2001 Bower Science Award Theme: Telecommunications

Born in Poland, at the age of two, Baran arrived in the U.S. with his immigrant parents. He spent his formative years in Philadelphia, attending Drexel Institute of Technology (later Drexel University) and graduated in 1949. He now resides in Atherton, California and is Chairman of the Board of Com21, Incorporated, which he founded in 1992. This company is now the largest supplier of cable modem systems in Europe and #3 in the US.

Baran was hired by the Eckert Mauchly Computer Company in 1949 as a technician on the world's first commercial computer, the Univac. He went to the Raymond Rosen Engineering Products Company in 1950 where he designed the first telemetering equipment for Cape Canaveral. He joined the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1955, in the Systems Group of the then Ground Systems Department in radar data processing and later in Studies and Analysis. In 1959 he went to the RAND Corporation where he is generally regarded as inventing what is now called "packet switching." He wrote a series of 13 reports describing the key concepts underlying packet switching and its engineering implications in 1964. While at RAND, he also designed the first doorway gun detector, and was at the time the first computer scientist to testify to the U.S. Congress on the impending problem of computer privacy.

In 1968 he co-founded the Institute for the Future, a not-for-profit research organization to develop longer range planning methodology. In 1972, he formed Cabledata Associates, initially a consulting firm. He also started the company, Telebit, based on a technology he invented, now called ODMT—orthogonal discreet multitone modulation, using an ensemble of hundreds of tones sent simultaneously creating the highest performing fastest modem of its time. Telebit was acquired by Cisco 1996.

Simply stated, the technology of packet-switching, invented by Baran, allows pieces of information to be divided into small packets or "envelopes" of information that are addressed, sent to a specific destination, then reassembled. This previously unthought of technology—a post office-like telecommunications system revolutionized the telecommunications industry and the world today, as we know it. Originally devised during the cold war as a military communications system to be used in the event of nuclear attack, packet switching became the foundation of the Internet and truly has altered the world in which we live.

Paul Baran received his BS in EE from Drexel University 1949 and his MS in Engineering from UCLA.

Information as of April 2001