Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering

2016 Draper Prize Acceptance Remarks

NAE Draper Prize Acceptance Remarks

Andrew Viterbi

President Mote, Leadership of the National Academy of Engineering and the Draper Laboratories, Colleagues, Family and Friends,

A wise friend, who has received his share of recognition, commented on receiving an award that people and papers don’t win prizes. Nominations and Supporting Letters do!

So I am most grateful to the initially anonymous nominator and references who supported my nomination and, of course, equally to the Selection Committee which voted me worthy of such an honor. I feel like the horse who won the Triple Crown: in my case, chronologically, the National Medal of Science, the IEEE Medal of Honor --and now the National Academy of Engineering, representing the outstanding members of our profession, has honored me with the Charles Stark Draper Prize. I’m also grateful to the Draper Laboratory, formerly known as the MIT Instrumentation Lab, which established the prize.

I never met Doc Draper, even though I was a student during a short fraction of his lengthy distinguished career at my Alma Mater. That was a period of great intellectual leaders at MIT; in addition to Draper, there stood out Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon and Bob Fano, who created new disciplines and disciples, research groups and laboratories which have pioneered the remarkable technological advances which today the public takes for granted. I chose to follow the latter three to delve into the mysteries of digital communication and information.  But along the way I kept running into Doc Draper’s accomplishments. In my first professional job, at JPL in Pasadena, my section was responsible for telemetry to support radio guidance of a ballistic missile which employed a hybrid combination of inertial and radio guidance; the inertial system of course was based on the technology invented by Doc Draper.  Fast forward half a century and today’s accurate real-time mapping, which we all use in our cars for example, is performed using GPS/INS, an advanced form of hybrid inertial-radio guidance.

Even before that early phase of the space age, I had heard often of Dr. Draper’s Instrumentation Lab from my best friend in both high school and college; he worked at the Instrumentation/Draper Lab from his graduate school days through to retirement, having concentrated along the way on space-based computing for the Apollo Lunar Program. So if my friend could devote four decades to a career at the Lab, it must provide a pretty stimulating technical and working environment.

If I speak much longer, this will start sounding like a Motion Picture Academy Award acceptance speech. And the only contact I’ve had with entertainment has been strictly of a technical kind, involving digital video compression and transmission, hardly the stuff that excites the public. But before concluding, let me say that my greatest passion is the advancement of higher education in engineering and the sciences, certainly a priority for Dr. Draper as well. Consequently, I am turning back to the NAE the generous monetary component of the Draper Prize to be used for the purpose of advancing the Engineering profession through attracting and educating the best and brightest of new generations who will become the outstanding engineers of the future.

Thanks again to the Academy, the Draper Laboratory and all of you for coming.