American computer scientist Russell Kirsch has died at the age of 91, reports ABC News. He invented the pixel and scanned the first digital photo.
Kirsch was at the cradle of what we now know as pixels. In 1957, decades before the first digital camera appeared, the scientist digitized a photo of his son.
He did this with a special photo scanner that he built together with colleagues. A rotating drum and light sensors reflected a small image of the child. For example, a scan could be made on the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC), one of the first programmable computers.
During the scan, the image was captured on a grid consisting of small squares. By performing multiple scans, not only black values, but also shades of gray could be recorded. The first digital photo was ultimately a 5 by 5 centimeter image and consisted of 31,000 pixels. Phones can now take photos consisting of twelve million pixels.
The development later also ensured that other techniques, such as satellite images, CAT scans and virtual reality, originated.
In 2010, Kirsch said Wired that square pixels made sense at the time, but that he regretted it afterwards. “It was a very stupid thing that has bothered everyone in the world ever since.” He argued for pixels in variable shapes, which could have made curves and other lines much tighter.