Kodak, once Mecca of chemistry, now embraces digital tech
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Steven J SASSON, an electrical engineer who invented the first digital camera at Eastman Kodak in the 1970s, remembers well management's dismay at his feat.
"My prototype was big as a toaster, but the technical people loved it," Mr. Sasson said. "But it was filmless photography, so management's reaction was, 'that's cute — but don't tell anyone about it.' "
Since then, of course, Kodak, which once considered itself the Bell Labs of chemistry, has embraced the digital world and the researchers who understand it.
"The shift in research focus has been just tremendous," said John D Ward, a lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology who worked for Kodak for 20 years. Or, as Mr. Sasson put it, "Getting a digital idea accepted has sure gotten a lot easier."
Indeed, physicists, electrical engineers and all sorts of people who are more comfortable with binary code than molecules are wending their way up through Kodak's research labs.
Kodak is by no means thriving. Digital products are nowhere near filling the profit vacuum left by evaporating sales of film. Its work force is about a fifth of the size it was two decades ago, and it continues to lose money. Its share price remains depressed.
But, finally, digital products are flowing from the labs. Kodak recently introduced a pocket-size television, which is selling in Japan for about $285. It has software that lets owners of multiplexes track what is showing on each screen. It has a tiny sensor small enough to fit into a cellphone, yet acute enough to capture images in low light.
The company now has digital techniques that can remove scratches and otherwise enhance old movies. It has found more efficient ways to make OLEDs — organic light-emitting diodes — for displays in cameras, cellphones and televisions.
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