A Culture of Innovation

The iPhone’s touch technology was born in a UD lab. What will our engineers come up with next?

Many people are buzzing about the Sept. 12 Apple announcement about the newest iPhone, the 10th anniversary edition of the device that changed the world. But did you know that the University of Delaware played a role in the development of the iPhone? Alumnus Wayne Westerman, who earned a doctoral degree from the electrical and computer engineering department in 1999, and John Elias, professor of electrical engineering, developed touch tracking/sensing and typing/gesture recognition technology as part of their startup company, FingerWorks. That invention later became a ubiquitous part of touchscreen displays and earned them this mention in the book, The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant, published earlier this year:

“FingerWorks was founded by a brilliant PhD student, Wayne Westerman, and the professor advising him on his dissertation. Despite generally agreeing that the core technology was impressive, Apple’s marketing department couldn’t figure out how they would use multitouch, or sell it. ‘We said, well, it’s time to look at it again,’ Huppi [an Apple engineer] says. ‘And it was like, Wow, they really have figured out how to do this multitouch stuff with capacitive sensing.’ It’s impossible to understand the modern language of computing, or the iPhone, without understanding what that means.”

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