Analog and audio engineer and innovator Ray Dolby passed away a few days ago. There's no need to go over his biography or impressive developments here — you can do a search and find quite a few references and obituaries. There is this nice piece “Remembering Ray Dolby” in IEEE Spectrum here. And on EDN, there is this piece by Rich Pell. Unfortunately, while his passing and accomplishments should have been a major story, they were overshadowed by major world events and crises, as well as the latest super-important news from Hollywood and celebrities.
Dolby developed a revolutionary noise reduction system (a characterization we don't use casually) which largely solved the problem of background hiss and noise in magnetic-tape recording/playback systems. The problem was this: Despite the best attempts of materials scientists and electronics engineers to get the inherent noise in such systems down to acceptable levels, there was a floor below which they could not push it.
So Dolby looked at the problem from another angle, and his insight yielded a sophisticated, adaptive-filtering system which assumed there would be noise, and then countered it “on the fly.” It made magnetic tape — even (now-obsolete) cassette units with their slow speed of 1 7/8 inches per second (for longer recording times) — sound good; units with faster speeds sounded very good. Dolby's approach and modified versions of it also played a major role in making digitized audio sound much better than the basic ENOB and SNR specifications would indicate.
My point is not to discuss the details of his technical achievements and how his system worked. What Dolby accomplished beyond that is really quite dramatic: he was an engineer whose name was known to the general public. Think about it: How many engineers' names are known to the average person? Not many, that's for sure.
He also decided not to get into manufacturing products with his system, instead choosing to license his technology to audio vendors for an up-front fee and a per-unit royalty, an unusual move for a technology company at the time. In exchange, companies could use his system name on their products, and tell customers that the product included some version of the Dolby noise reduction system. That, too, was an impressive achievement and recognition of the power of his design.
Ray Dolby is unfortunately gone, but his work lives on in millions of products as well as his eponymous company, Dolby Laboratories. That's another unusual accomplishment.
Can you think of any other engineers who are known to the public for their positive accomplishments, even if they are not sure what those accomplishments actually are? There's Steve Jobs, maybe Steve Wozniak, to start. Are there other consumer, mass-market products which have the name of the engineer on the product itself?