USB became the most common plug for consumer electronics in large part because it moved the PC to the center of people’s digital universe. Today, USB co-inventor Ajay Bhatt is working on technologies that will bring new experiences to the PC just as the now-ubiquitous plug-and-play USB cable did 20 years ago.
Bhatt helped invent USB, or universal serial bus, in 1994 just 4 years after he joined Intel. Today, he said, some 2 billion USB-equipped computers, smartphones, tablets, cameras, printers, music players and other digital devices now ship each year. The unmitigated success of USB turned Bhatt into a tech industry celebrity — an actor portrayed him in a commercial. But the Intel Fellow and chief platform architect for Intel’s PC Client group hasn’t rested on his USB laurels. He holds 33 patents, eight of them related to USB, and has been recognized for his work with Accelerated Graphics Port, PCI Express and power management technologies, and this year received the Asian Award in Science and Technology and was nominated for a European Inventor Award.
In a recent interview, Bhatt discussed his work to reinvent the PC and how USB sparked new uses for computers while giving manufacturers a single standard for data transfer and power.
Before USB, what was computing like?
In the early 1990s, computers were used by technical people to do technical things. They were not suitable for a common consumer.
Prior to the advent of USB, each of the plugs on a computer were unique plugs. I got my inspiration from looking at a power plug on the wall. The thinking was, you plug in your toaster and it works or you plug in a computer and it works — a user doesn’t have to know, they just plug in the device and flick a switch and you get the power. We said let’s make a ubiquitous plug on a computer so that any device that’s plugged in just starts working. You don’t have to know what kind of board, the speeds and feeds or get the [driver] disks to make it run. We wanted to make something that you could just plug in and start using. That’s how USB came about.
Do you know how many USB devices are in the world today?
Every year there are more than 2 billion devices shipped. These days just about every phone, computer and tablet has a USB built in, and today most people can’t imagine life without USB.
Your work on the USB changed computing. What are you working on today?
These days I’m working on transforming PC experiences. The PC has been around for about 30 years, and every so often it goes through a transformation. We went from desktop to mobile computing and once they were mobile we made them wireless. Now we’re trying to make it ultraportable, very light, thin yet have all-day battery life and new technologies such as touch, sensing and ubiquitous connectivity.
I’m working on a computer that will last all day long. If it is on standby, the battery will last more than 2 weeks and it will have all of the performance that you always had in a personal computer. We’re in the midst of reinventing the PC once again.
Imagine a computer that is the best of both worlds. When you’re at your desk, it has a keyboard, all of the ports in the back and a large screen, but when you want to leave your office and just enjoy simple consumption then you can eject the screen, remove it and you have a tablet.
With wireless data and charging technologies improving, will USB still be around in the future?
Wireless gives you great freedom in most situations. However, you always face a situation where wireless won’t work reliably. That’s when you need one wire. That one wire is going to be USB. The same wire that allows you to talk to a peripheral can also supply enough power to the PC to charge it.
Has the PC evolved beyond being the center of people’s digital life?
We’ve gone away from personal computing to ubiquitous computing so we’ll all have smart cars, smart devices, smart homes, so smartness will be around us and on us, whether it is a watch or wearable computer or glasses. We will see smart things all around and these things, known as the ‘Internet of Things,’ will work seamlessly to give you a contiguous computing experience.
In 2009, an actor portrayed you in an Intel Sponsors of Tomorrow ad. Were you disappointed that the actor looked nothing like you?
That’s not the real Ajay Bhatt. I’m the real Ajay Bhatt.
The History of USB
- USB was first developed in 1994 by Compaq, DEC, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC and Nortel.
- Ajay Bhatt and others from Intel worked on the standard.
- First integrated circuits supporting USB were produced by Intel in 1995.
- The original USB 1.0 specification was introduced in January 1996 with data transfer rates between 1.5 Mbit/s and 12 Mbit/s.
- First widely used version of USB was 1.1, which was released in September 1998.
- USB 2.0 specification was released in April 2000 after Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Lucent Technologies (now Alcatel-Lucent), NEC and Philips led development to increase data transfer rate to 480 Mbit/s, a 40-times increase over the original USB 1.1 specification.
- The USB 3.0 specification was released November 2008 with data transfer rate up to 5 Gbit/s, decrease power consumption, increase power output and backwards-compatible with USB 2.0.
- The first USB 3.0 SuperSpeed-equipped devices hit the market in January 2010 and by late 2013 speeds are expected to increase from 5 to 10 Gbit/s.
This content was originally published on the Intel Free Press website.