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Home > Spotlight

The father of the microchip

The Father of the Microchip

Roma - (Adnkronos Multimedia) - He is a scientist, inventor and technologist - but also a business leader who founded four firms that have left their mark on the world of new technologies, electronics and computers. This is the portrait of Federico Faggin, one of the most famous Italians in the world. He invented the first microprocessor that led the way to the birth and development of the personal computer, the MOS technology that revolutionized the electronics world, and the touch pad that replaces the mouse on portable computers. He has received two honorary degrees, one in 1994 for computing from the Politecnico of Milan and the other in 2002 in electronic engineering from the University of Rome at "Tor Vergata".
Federico Faggin was born in Vicenza in 1941 but is a Californian by adoption. He stubbornly continues to fill the double role of scientist and manager. He has invented technological solutions designed to radically change entire industrial sectors and even our daily habits. He is also Chairman of the Board of Foveon Inc., and a member of the Directory Board of many companies such as Zilog, BlueArc, Integrated Device Technology and Synaptics.

He began his career at a very young age at SGS, a well-known Italian firm in the semiconductor sector that has today become ST Microelectronics. At the time it was allied with the American company, Fairchild. During this period, he did on-the-job training in the growing Silicon Valley. Still today, 36 years later, we might say Faggin is still engaged in on-the-job training: experimenting, testing and accepting and conquering challenges. The next year he went to Intel, the world giant in microprocessors, which at that time had very little faith in personal computers. It was Faggin who made the managers of Intel change their minds by designing the 4000 series, the first microprocessors in history. A few years later, in 1972, a new series, called the 8000, was born. It led to the famous 8008 and 8080, the microprocessors used in the first personal computers for the general consumer market.

When he was 33, in 1974, Faggin decided to found Zilog. After two years of research and experimentation, the Z80 was born, the longest-lived of all the processors produced, which is still in use today in many applications such as controller circuits. But Faggin was not content with being a successful entrepreneur. Something urged him on to continue innovating. In 1980 he founded Cygnet and produced a telephone that was too "intelligent" for those times. It was capable of connecting with any computer.
Electronic mail was born but the market did not accept it and the prodigious invention remained a technological success but not a commercial one. In 1986, Faggin founded a third company, Synaptics.
Eight years of research were spent perfecting an object that revolutionized the computer world: the touch pad, that rectangle now found on all portable computers as a substitute for the mouse. 30 million are now produced every year. It was called the "skin of the computer", a sensor able to feel pressure and movement and is perhaps the electronic device that most resembles the perceptive system of humans.

The first pass toward a computer equipped with an almost human sense had been accomplished. It was only natural, therefore, to move on and try to imitate sight. In 2003, Faggin founded Foveon, which began to immediately produce a new generation of digital optical sensors. Instead of one layer of silicon crystals covered with filters for selecting colors, it used multiple sensitive layers, each of which perceived a different chromatic range.

Whether it be the revolution of the personal computer, electronic optical devices, the touch pad or MOS transistors, during the last forty years electronics has changed our way of living and it was almost always thanks to an idea of Federico Faggin.

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