Maverick Innovator Award: Martin Cooper

Maverick Innovator Award: Martin Cooper

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The Legendary

"The artist and the engineer have many things in common. One is passion. How can you work on something for 20, 30 ... even 40 years, holding onto an idea you know is right...until the world eventually adopts that idea?"

Martin "Marty" Cooper exemplifies the never-ending passion needed to fuel great creations of science and art. In a world where instantaneous success often replaces lasting impact, Marty's life and work showcase a brilliant mind, ebullient spirit and massive heart. Marty believed, before it seemed possible, that people wanted to connect with people and do it while being mobile. He saw the world we all enjoy today, and because of his vision, innovations, leadership and persistence the cell phone has become a powerful global tool of communication and creativity. Yet it took Marty 30 years to make his vision a reality. Most would have given up after 30 days or 30 months of seeming failure.

Inventor, entrepreneur, futurist, Cooper is a world-renowned expert on technology and innovation and its impact on business and society. He is widely regarded as one of the leading inventors of our time and has spent most of the past five decades creating some of the world's most important business and technological concepts and offerings. Cooper is an activist who seeks to shape public policy in the U.S., and globally, having testified before various committees. He is passionate about the revolution in health care and commerce that wireless technology will engender when networks are finally opened and new technology adopted. Cooper is also an accomplished entrepreneur and futurist.

Cooper was born on December 26, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Arthur and Mary Cooper. He was a tinkerer from an early age, recalling in an interview with Seattle Times journalist Yukari Iwatani, "I'd been taking things apart and inventing things since I was a little kid. I still have memories as a child trying to really understand how things work." He graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1950, and from there enlisted in the U.S.Navy, serving on destroyer submarines. Cooper joined Motorola, Inc. in 1954, and earned his master's degree in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology three years later in 1957. At Motorola, he was assigned to the division that was working on the first portable handheld police radios, which were introduced in Chicago in 1967. By then he had advanced to the position of operations director, and over the next nine years he made his most significant contribution to the future of mobile communications while serving the company.

Cooper is often dubbed the father of the mobile phone. Cooper has stated his vision for the handheld device was inspired by Captain James T. Kirk using his Communicator on the television show Star Trek.

He conceived the first portable cellular phone in 1972. Cooper knew then that people needed the freedom that comes from anywhere, anytime telephony in contrast to being tethered to a desk or a car. He has been referred to as the "father of portable cellular telephony" and is recognized as an innovator in spectrum management.

In 1973, Cooper stood on a Manhattan street and placed the world's first call from a mobile phone. "There were a lot of naysayers over the years." Cooper and Mitchell demonstrated two working phones to the media and to passers-by prior to walking into a scheduled press conference at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan. Standing on Sixth Avenue near the Hilton, Cooper made the first handheld cellular phone call in public from the prototype DynaTAC. Reporters and onlookers watched as Cooper dialed the number of his chief competitor Dr. Joel S. Engel, who was head of Bell Labs. "Joel, this is Marty. I'm calling you from a cell phone, a real handheld portable cell phone."

Cooper admitted in an interview with Investor's Business Daily writer Patrick Seitz. "People would say, 'Why are we spending all of this money? Are you sure this cellular thing will turn out to be something?' "

Car phones had been in limited use in large U.S. cities since the 1930s, but Cooper defied the industry's narrow vision of car phones and championed cellular telephony for personal, portable communications. He knew the cellular phone should be a "personal telephone... something that would represent an individual so you could assign a number; not to a place, not to a desk, not to a home, but to a person." Top management at Motorola was supportive of Cooper's mobile phone concept; investing $100 million between 1973 and 1993 before any revenues were realized. Cooper assembled a team that designed and assembled a product that had never been built; a task they accomplished in less than 90 days. That original handset, weighed 2.5 pounds, measured 10 inches long and was dubbed "the brick" or "the shoe" phone. A very substantial part of the DynaTAC was the battery which weighed 4 to 5 times more than a modern cell phone. Additionally, the phone had only 20 minutes of talk time before requiring a 10-hour recharge but according to Cooper, "The battery lifetime wasn't really a problem because you couldn't hold that phone up for that long!" By 1983, and after four iterations, the handset was reduced to half its original weight. After years of struggle for adaptation, Cooper's innovations and persistence eventually saw spectacular results: today over five billion cell phones are in use on our planet.

As an entrepreneur he has started a number of businesses including co-founding GreatCall, Inc., maker of the Jitterbug phone and service and ArrayComm, the world leader in smart antenna technology.

In 2010, he was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Science and Technology. In March, 2011, Cooper was nominated for the "Mikhail Gorbachev: The Man Who Changed the World" Award.

Cooper holds a B.S. and an M.S. in Electrical Engineering and an honorary doctorate from the Illinois Institute of Technology on whose board of Trustees he serves.

Cinequest presents its highest honor, the Maverick Innovator Award, to Martin Cooper on Opening Night, March 4, at 7pm, California Theatre.