Masters of Innovation

African Americans have a long history of implementing technology as a vehicle to deliver innovation. Lewis Howard Latimer, a Union Navy veteran and the son of former slaves, was just 26 when he secured his first in a series of patents. Latimer, who helped to invent the water closet (a mobile bathroom from the time period) for railway cars, went on to design the carbon filaments that became a precursor to our present-day light bulb. With Latimer’s often uncredited achievements as a mirror, our technologists have introduced innovations across numerous sectors to help transform the way we live. Technological innovation is part of our DNA, as the following stories attest.

When NASA needed help with its robot rovers on the planet Mars, the space agency turned to Ashitey Tribi-Ollenu to help navigate the twin robot geologists. Though rarely mentioned outright, food is sometimes a political weapon in developing countries, but Chicago native Malcolm Speller has been working for the past decade with food processing technologies that offer potentially sustainable solutions. Got voting irregularities? We might see fewer of those sooner than you think. Over at Auburn University, in Auburn, Alabama, Juan Gilbert, an associate professor in the computer science and software engineering department, has invented an interactive voting booth with both touch screen and voice interface capabilities and a video-enabled audit trail. In approximately eight years at Auburn, Gilbert has raised nearly $10 million in research funding.

You’d have to have your head buried deep in the sand to escape the impact of technology as an ever-growing component in our world. And just look at some of the industry surnames where we’ve become a presence: biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology, fuel cell technology, and green technologies.

With help from a network of academics and industry insiders, black enterprise went under the radar to uncover and assemble a collage of technology-focused visionaries. So what does it take to become a cutting-edge leader at the top of your respective field? Imagination. Opportunity. Hard work. This group doesn’t always sit in the forefront–they maneuver past it to provide solutions to complex issues in areas such as science, security, education, sustainability, and business.

We took in a few more ideas from the accomplishments of some of our brightest innovators and their collective imprint on what looks like some bold steps toward the future. Over the next few pages, we present them to you.

Vice President & Chief Technology Officer
GE Healthcare

Barber holds patents for novel X-ray system designs and has been directly involved with many product advances in the field of diagnostic imaging. He led the team that eliminated the need for film in X-ray procedures by developing a digital flat panel detector that is now standard in mammography, cardiology, and radiographic procedures worldwide.
Innovation: Barber developed the company’s first touch-screen interface for controlling X-ray systems.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering
Rochester Institute of Technology
Brown is developing more intelligent robotic orthotics that utilize human bio-physical and bio-physiological information