Digital Camera Pioneer Steven Sasson To Receive Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 2011 Davies Medal

Electrical Engineer To Receive Highest Honor Awarded to an Alumnus of the Rensselaer School of Engineering

Renowned electrical engineer and digital camera inventor Steven Sasson, Class of 1972, will receive the prestigious Davies Medal for Engineering Achievement from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute School of Engineering.

Rensselaer will honor Sasson during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies auditorium. As part of the celebration, Sasson will give a presentation titled “Disruptive Innovation: The Story of the First Digital Camera.” The talk will be followed by a reception, both of which are open to the campus community.

In his presentation, Sasson will draw from personal experience as he shares how the first digital camera prototype — which was eight pounds and about the size of a toaster — was created and demonstrated in 1975 at the Eastman Kodak Company. He will also discuss the many subsequent technical innovations in the 1980s stemming from the prototype, as well as early efforts in the 1990s to commercialize digital cameras. An underlying theme of the talk is an exploration of the complex dynamics between people and technology during a time of disruptive innovation within an established corporate environment.

“We are extremely proud to present Mr. Sasson with the Davies Medal, the highest honor given to an alumnus of the Rensselaer School of Engineering,” said David Rosowsky, dean of the School of Engineering at Rensselaer. “His pioneering invention revolutionized the way we capture, store, and share photos and images, and ultimately transformed the industry. Mr. Sasson is a true inspiration to the entire Rensselaer community, and we are thankful to have him among the global family of Rensselaer engineering graduates.”

In honor of one of the Institute’s most accomplished, active, and loyal alumni, Clarence E. Davies ’14, Rensselaer established the Davies Medal for Engineering Achievement in 1980 to recognize a Rensselaer alumnus with a distinguished career of engineering achievement, public service, and technical and managerial accomplishments.

The Davies Medal award at Rensselaer is funded by an endowment from Mr. and Mrs. J. Erik Jonsson ’22.

On Friday, Sept. 23, Sasson will be among a group of Rensselaer graduates to be inducted into the university’s Alumni Hall of Fame. For more information on the ceremony, visit:

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Sasson showed a knack for electronics throughout childhood and in high school. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer in 1972, and stayed at the Institute to complete his master’s degree in electrical engineering.

After graduating, Sasson joined the Eastman Kodak Company as an electrical engineer. At Kodak, he engaged in a number of early digital imaging projects. Among these was the design and construction of the first digital still camera and playback system in 1975. With a resolution of 0.01 megapixels, it recorded black-and-white digital images to a magnetic cassette tape. Using the prototype, Sasson took the first image in December 1975 — it took 23 seconds to capture the shot. Sasson was 25 years old.

He continued to work throughout the 1980s in the emerging field of digital photography, and received more than 10 key digital imaging patents. In 1989, he led the development of the first prototype megapixel electronic digital camera utilizing DCT compression that stored images to flash memory cards. Development continued into the 1990s, when Sasson developed one of the first photographic-quality thermal printing systems, derivatives of which are still in use in self-service imaging kiosks around the world today.

Outside the original patent granted in 1978, there was no public disclose of Sasson’s work until 2001. During those years, Kodak amassed more than 1,000 digital imaging patents. Today, nearly all digital cameras rely on those inventions.

Before retiring in 2009, Sasson was a project manager in the Intellectual Property Transactions group at Kodak.

On Oct. 15, 2010, the White House announced that Sasson was one of six individuals who would receive the 2009 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor for technological achievement bestowed by the President of the United States on America’s leading innovators.

For more information on the Davies Medal at Rensselaer, including past winners, visit:

Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161