1-on-1 with inventor of camera phone patent, a former Kodak engineer

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LEROY, N.Y. (WROC) — 25 years ago, before Google, Instagram, Wikipedia, and even before there were more than 130 web sites on the Internet, Kodak technician and engineer Jim Schueckler patented the first design for a cameraphone.

Specifically, he designed a patent that made the process a single system, that allowed person someone with a cameraphone to capture a picture, store it, and then send it to a destination.

The patent was officially filed in 1995, and was approved in 1997.

Early life

Schueckler grew up on Grand Island, in Erie County. He says as a two-year old kid, he was taking apart everything he could find as a two year-old.

“There wasn’t a butter knife in the house that didn’t have an end bent because it was used as a screwdriver,” he said.

While in school in Grand Island, he always had an affinity for the math and sciences, and said this teachers there helped foster his interest in electronics.

Not soon after, he got his first ham radio at 15, and started a full-time job right after working as a radio technician. His career in radio and engineering took a brief pause.

He served in the Vietnam War as a Huey helicopter pilot, both flying in assault mission, as well as transport missions. After coming back, he went back to his radio operator job, and started his 14 years of night school.

Not long after, he started his career at Kodak as an electrical technician. He would be there for 31 years.

Schueckler, center. With Lee Pierson and David Lissow.

Time at Kodak

Early at his time at Kodak, Schueckler worked with an engineer named Steve Sasson. Sasson was the inventor of the first digital camera in 1975. Scheuckler also completed a playback unit for digital images while Sasson was on vacation.

Fast forward another 20 or so years, Schueckler was working on advancing the digital camera.

“It turns out the, the first digital camera was a lot, or the first camera phone was a lot like my master’s thesis project,” Schueckler said. “A ham radio system to receive and transmit images with on a computer based system.”

An early version of that system was even able to capture images of Saturn, like this one:

While he was at Kodak working on the commercialization of the digital camera with fellow engineer Ken Parulski. Parulski was working on connecting a small camera to a touch screen device, then would then interface with a wireless transmitter.

Schueckler then pitched his idea of a cell phone with a built-in camera. Through their combined ideas, they came up with the patent.

“It was exciting,” Schueckler said, describing the work environment in 1995. “All the engineers and technicians were frequently coming up with ideas that we’d like to implement, and we’d take them to management. Our local managers said; ‘Hey, can, can we work on something like this?'”

“An important thing that I know that they’ve said is it, you can’t expect every project to work on to be a success,” he said. “Because if you do, then you’re spending too much time thinking about whether it’s going to be a success or not instead of pursuing, making something new work, something that was never done before.”

But did they know at the time what a big deal this would be?

“Only slightly,” he said.

“At this time there’s about 3.5 billion camera phones in the world. There are many, many more billions of pictures taken every day, and transfer orders over a cell phone network.”

“Thinking of seeing (people) using a part of your own technology. I use part of that technology,” he said. “It makes me feel very cool. I’m one of the, one of the coolest geeks that I know… Although I do know many cool geeks.”

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