7 key tech innovators you've never heard of

5. Martin Cooper, Mobile phone
The first person to walk blissfully into street traffic while talking on a phone, Martin Cooper invented the mobile phone in 1973 while working at Motorola. He thought of the idea after watching the original Star Trek and noticing Captain Kirk using a communicator. The first cell phone, called the DynaTAC8000X, weighed 2 pounds - as much as a modern day sub-notebook computer - and cost $3,500. You could only talk on it for 30 minutes, and there was no public cell phone service - that wasn't invented until 1983. Today, about 1.35 billion people use a cell phone.

The mobile may one day completely replace that other famous invention (you know, the one by Mr Bell) that uses a landline or POTS (plain old telephone system) connection. Telephone lines are becoming less and less common - one out of eight people don't even have one any more.

6. Fujio Masuoka, Flash memory
Flash memory is no flash-in-the-pan idea. Fujio Masuoka invented the storage media – which we now use in digital cameras (for storing photos) and in our computers (USB keydrives) - way back in 1981. He was working as a mid-level manager for Toshiba in Japan and, as a side project, he invented a way to store data on a chip temporarily, use it, and then immediately erase it - a process a colleague compared to a camera flash.

The fast speed, small size, re-usability and high capacity of flash storage has made it increasingly attractive - so much so that researchers at Stanford and the Pacific National Laboratory are considering flash as a replacement for slower, power-hungry magnetic hard disk drives.

In fact, in the not-too-distant future, flash memory may become the storage medium for where we store all of our files: photos, videos, office documents and our entire collection of Yo Lo Tango releases.

7. Adam Osborne, Laptop Computer
Next to the cell phone, a laptop is the second most ubiquitous gadget we use. Invented by Adam Osborne in 1981, the first portable computer - called the Osborne 1 - weighed a backbreaking 23.5 pounds, had just a 5-inch monochrome screen, and provided no Internet access - since that wasn't invented for another decade.

An eclectic Englishman, Osborne also founded a publishing house and wrote 40 computer books. Although his major achievement was inventing the laptop, he is also famous for a marketing blunder. In 1982, he announced the successor to the Osborne 1 - which was backlogged with 110,000 orders - and effectively killed the company as people decided to wait for the new model. Yet, those early failures did not spoil the laptop party. Today, they are much more common than those ugly beige desktop PCs of yesteryear, and someday the desktop PC won't even exist any more.


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John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.