The inventor of the pixel and maker of the first digital scanner has passed away at the age of 91. The American Russell Kirch made a scanner to digitize a photo of his then three-month-old son in 1957.
The scanner that Kirch and his colleagues designed was a scanner with a rotating drum with light sensors that could detect reflections from an analogue photo. After a first scan there was a black and white photo, but by doing several scans in succession it was possible to scan a photo with grayscale. That happened on SEAC, or Standards Eastern Automatic Computer, a computer of the first generation that could store programs on its own memory.
The team also laid the foundation for the first algorithms to process images in a computer. The first scanned photo showed Kirch’s three-month-old son at a resolution of 179×179 pixels, at a size of 5x5cm.
Kirch later said that the square pixel choice was the most obvious option, but by no means the only or best choice. In an article in Wired ten years ago he proposed a technique to no longer keep pixels square, but to let the content depend on the image around them in order to obtain sharper images with lower resolution.
Kirch was also involved in the earliest research into artificial intelligence in computers in the 1960s. He passed away this week from Alzheimer’s, meldt Oregon Live.