Show cover of Ahead of Its Time

Ahead of Its Time

The inventor of facial recognition software was years ahead of the competition but never got credit for his work because it was kept secret by the CIA. The first VR glove was a groundbreaking piece of tech that would eventually become one of the gaming industry's biggest flops. And when Kodak execs were shown an early prototype of the first digital camera, they flat out rejected the idea. In each episode of Ahead of Its Time, you'll explore the forgotten origins of today’s most transformative technology, hear from the people who first imagined it, delve into their past and relive their eureka moments. Join host, podcast producer and queen of tech storytelling Julia Furlan to discover why these inventors struggled to get their ideas off the ground. Then meet the next generation of innovators who are building on the work of the tech underdogs who came before them.


eBooks: A snack run and the Declaration of Independence changed the way we read
At our core, humans are storytellers. And books are one of the oldest technologies we use to document and preserve our stories. But the printed book has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years so it might just be ready for a makeover.In this episode, Greg Newby tells us the story of his friend Michael Hart who, roused by an impressive display of fireworks one 4th of July, invented the eBook. Then Manolis Kelaidis explains how he designed a new print/digital hybrid book that got the attention of Penguin publishing and big Silicon Valley investors.In 1971, more than 30 years before the first eReader, Michael Hart founded Project Gutenberg, the world’s first electronic digital library. With the help of volunteers, he slowly transcribed literary works in the public domain into eBooks and shared them online. Librarians and publishers openly condemned Project Gutenberg and many thought the idea of reading books on a computer was downright wacky.The eBook marked the first major change to book technology since Gutenberg invented the printing press. The next big evolution is Manolis’ bitbook. The bitbook is a printed, paper book with circuits embedded in the pages, connected by Bluetooth to nearby devices, posed to come alive with additional media to entirely reinvented the reading experience.For more information, visit
27:00 09/20/2022
Solar Panels: A flashlight-powered windmill and electrifying the world’s most remote villages
In just one hour, the earth catches enough solar energy to power the world for a year. Big solar farms, home installations and increasingly efficient solar cells are slowly, but surely, converting more and more of the sun’s energy into electricity every year. And some of the poorest people, living in the most remote villages have helped usher in this new era of solar power.In this episode, you'll hear how Calvin Fuller’s difficult childhood and adolescent interest in explosives catalyzed the invention of the first silicon solar cell. Then Bob Freling explains how witnessing the installation of a solar panel in a remote Chinese village changed his life forever.In 1954, Calvin Fuller and a team at Bell Labs, built a solar cell that could convert 6% of the sun’s energy into electricity. The technology’s potential captured imaginations and even helped power the first satellites launched into space. But applications here on earth proved harder to find.But Bob Freling found a terrestrial application that’s making an outsized impact. Bob, working with the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), has helped more than 1-million people around the  world who can’t access the electrical grid use solar to do a lot more than turn on the lights. His story takes us to the African country of Benin where local farmers are using solar power to fight drought and increase food security.For more information, visit
28:03 09/06/2022
WiFi & Wireless Comms: A Hollywood starlet’s quest to defeat Hitler led to lightbulbs that transmit the internet
There are over 20-billion connected wireless devices in the world today. So right now, whether you’re sitting on your couch or on your way to work, there are likely dozens of invisible WiFi signals all around you. But what if we didn’t get our data from WiFi routers?In this episode, filmmaker Alexandra Dean tells the story of Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr and how she invented what became the basis for WiFi and wireless communication. Then Harald Haas explains how he’s reinventing wireless communication by turning light bulbs into wireless transmitters or, as he calls it, LiFi.In the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was leading a secret double life. By day she was a famous actress known as the most beautiful woman in the world.  By night she was building an uncrackable wireless communication device to help allied torpedos destroy Nazi submarines. Unfortunately, the world was more interested in what she was wearing than what she was thinking.  Nearly 70 years later, Harald built on Hedy’s legacy when he discovered how to wirelessly transmit data using light. His story takes us to the TED stage where he first unveiled LiFi and reveals how the technology can bring the internet to some of the world’s most remote locations.For more information, visit
27:42 08/23/2022
Cell Phones: The portable police radio and Apple’s secret project that changed the way we communicate
Your cell phone is more than just a phone. It’s your camera, address book, wallet, alarm clock, music player, map, newspaper… you get the point. And it’s changed how we interact with each other and how we navigate the world. And no cell phone has been quite as revolutionary as the iPhone.In this episode, Marty Cooper relives the rivalry between Motorola and Bell for cellular supremacy and the historic call he made using the world’s first cell phone. Then Bas Ordering gives us a behind the scenes look into working with Steve Jobs at Apple and helping design the iPhone.With the help of his fellow engineers at Motorola in 1973, Marty Cooper built the world’s first cell phone. Today, the cell phone and wireless communication are the glue of the global economy. But back in the day, plenty of naysayers thought the market for cell phones was too small to warrant investment.Over the next three decades, cell phones got smaller, less expensive, and more reliable. But it wasn’t until the release of the first iPhone in 2007 that we’d see the next big disruption. Bas helped develop many of the iPhone’s pioneering design features that transformed the cell phone into a multifunctional device many depend on to be productive and stay connected.For more information, visit
24:38 08/09/2022
Digital Cameras: How Kodak’s blunder and the camera on a computer chip could help us see further into space
If you want a taste of just how profoundly the digital age changed photography, consider this: more pictures will be taken worldwide in the next two minutes, than were taken during the first 150 years of photography.In this episode, Steven Sasson remembers how he tinkered with a weird new image sensing technology called CCDs to invent the world's first digital camera. Then we’ll hear from his good friend Eric Fossum who explains how he miniaturized that technology to help NASA explore the solar system.In 1972, Steven walked into the boardroom at Kodak to demonstrate his new, all electronic camera. He held in his hands the future of photography but the corporate execs in the room, to their own demise, couldn’t see beyond its expensive price tag.Two decades later, Eric Fossum miniaturized Steven’s imaging technology, effectively fitting an entire digital camera on a single computer chip. He named his innovation the C-MOS image sensor and without it, there would be no smartphone cameras. Today, his new startup is tackling the next era of digital photography to help us see deeper into space than ever before.For more more information please visit
25:51 07/26/2022
VR Gloves: Where air guitar meets a Nintendo flop, meets the future of remote surgery
When you think of virtual reality, your next thought is probably gaming. And while it’s certainly a mainstay in the gaming industry, VR has more applications than you realize.In this episode, Tom Zimmerman remembers how his love for air guitar spawned the development of his groundbreaking VR technology that would morph into the Nintendo Power Glove. Then Bob Crockett tells the story of how a college dropout convinced him to start a VR company that could one day transform healthcare.  Tom’s original glove was vital in helping build the VR industry in the 1980s, but it wasn't suited for gaming and would go down in history as one of the gaming industry’s big flops. But where the Power Glove fell short, a new glove is reinventing the VR experience. Bob Crockett and Jake Rubin founded HaptX with the goal of creating a virtual experience that was indistinguishable from the real world. Their DK2 VR glove, which can replicate almost any kind of tactile sensation, has brought them one step closer to making that a reality.
25:01 07/12/2022
Introducing Ahead of Its Time
Welcome to a new show about the tech underdogs no one realized would shape the future. You'll explore the forgotten origins of today’s most transformative technology and relive the eureka moments of the people who first imagined it. Discover why these inventors struggled to get their ideas off the ground and meet the next generation of innovators building on the work of the tech pioneers who came before them.
01:57 04/25/2022