05/12/2021

023 – Drawing on computers – 1963

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Knowledge is a rare thing – you gain by giving it away Ivan Sutherland

MIT student Ivan Sutherland used the TX-2 for his PhD thesis and developed Sketchpad, a computer drawing program, aka Robot Draftsman.  He says he drew inspiration from Vannevar Bush’s Memex and from an earlier MIT project called T-square.

Sketchpad used the TX-2 light pen to produce anything from artistic doodles to technical drawings.  It created many of the standards still in use today, eg squares defined by setting a start point and the length of a side, a circle by centre/radius.

This inspired Chuck Thacker at PARC to create Simple Illustrator, an early Alto application, and Patrick Baudelaire and Bob Sproull to produce the Draw program.

After a stint as associate professor at Harvard where he innovated in virtual reality and augmented reality, Sutherland moved to Utah.  In 1966 ARPA provided the University of Utah with $5m in pure research funding across three years for Dr David Evans to create a computer science department and investigate man-machine interfaces.

At Utah the influence of Dr David Evans and Dr Ivan Sutherland cannot be overstated, they inspired many, formed pioneering computer graphics company, Evans & Sutherland.  Over sixty companies were formed following technologies developed there.  John Warnock for his PhD at Utah digitised a supertanker’s view of New York harbour for a navigation simulator. 

John Gaffney led the effort to create a database of its various 3-D image components; this held the coordinates and height of each geographical feature.  Warnock himself developed the ‘virtual machine’ that would interpret the database entries and the simulator’s views.  Warnock moved to Xerox PARC and later co-founded Adobe. 

Nolan Bushnell studied electrical engineering at Utah, and later went on to co-found Atari and its video games.

Other Utahans include

•             Alan Kay, who evolved FLEX, Smalltalk and Dynabook

•             Henry Fuchs, innovator in 3D medical imaging

•             Henri Gouraud, Gouraud shading in 3D graphics

•             Frank Crow, anti-aliasing, hi-res files sent via low-res comms

•             Chuck Seitz, designer of graphics machines

•             Ronald Resch, computer art pioneer

•             Duane Call, supercomputing vector calculations

•             Ed Catmull who founded Pixar

Sutherland went on to play a significant role with ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office where he helped develop advanced computers and computing networks. 

IPTO poured massive funds into some thirteen research groups, about thirty times the previous norm, and it also funded their access to the latest equipment. Sutherland lured Bob Taylor away from NASA to assist and then to run IPTO.  Sutherland was back operating from the University of Utah when it was awarded the fourth ARPANET connection.

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