Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday December 12th 2018

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Ken Ford Honored

By Rick Outzen

The Florida Inventors Hall of Fame announced last week that the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition co-founder and CEO Ken Ford is among the eight inventors who will be inducted into the 2017 Florida Inventors Hall of Fame in September.

Ford is being recognized for his pioneering work in artificial intelligence and human-centered computing as well as his significant contributions to the United States and Florida’s technology and research communities. The Hall of Fame particularly highlighted Ford’s role in the 1990 co-founding of IHMC.

The not-for-profit research institute moved to downtown Pensacola in 1999, the same year Inweekly published its first issue. The institute was initially affiliated with the University of West Florida but has since become an independent research facility with offices in Pensacola and Ocala, Fla. IHMC has grown into one of the world’s premier research organizations.

Ford has been instrumental in bringing scientists and engineers from around the globe to Florida and IHMC to investigate a broad range of topics related to building technological systems aimed at amplifying and extending human cognition, perception, locomotion and resilience.

Has he been surprised by IHMC’s success?

“I’m not surprised by the accomplishments of my colleagues, but I am surprised to some extent to see the overall evolution of the organization,” Ford told Inweekly.

Last September, IHMC dedicated its new, state of the art research facility, Levin Center for IHMC Research, which was named after local attorney Fredric Levin, who donated a million dollars to the facility. The $8 million expansion was funded with a loan secured by the Escambia Board of County Commissioners.

“The new building means that in Pensacola all of us are in only two buildings,” explained Ford. “We were in five buildings and kind of spread all over, and right now we’re all close. It makes collaboration easier, and it’s a facility that we designed as a research facility. It’s set up for what we need rather than sort of repurposing a nice but a building that had been built for some other purpose.”

IHMC’s robotics research has earned international attention. Last fall, the IHMC robotics team placed a strong second in the powered exoskeleton division of the first annual Cybathlon in Zurich, Switzerland.

“The most substantial robotics development effort in modern times was called the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Robotics Challenge,” said Ford. “DARPA envisioned this competition over three years with three separate competitions. Our folks did fabulously.”

He added, ” The team was led by Jerry Pratt and Peter Neuhaus, and we got first, second, and second. Among the walking only robots that DARPA funded, we were first, first, and first and the best US team in all of the competitions. It was a tremendous effort. Almost three years for 25 or 30 people. That’s a major commitment, but they really did a great job. Credit to themselves and really to research in the United States.”

When asked about being named to the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame, Ford said, “The list of inductees and their accomplishments is quite amazing. I am very honored to be included with such a distinguished group of people.”

Ford holds two patents and is the author of hundreds of scientific papers and six books whose topics include artificial intelligence, cognitive science, human-centered computing, and entrepreneurship in government and academia. He joins others from IHMC who have been inducted, including IHMC senior research scientist Jerry Pratt who was inducted into the 2015 Hall of Fame class; William Dalton, IHMC’s board chair who was part of the 2016 class, as well as Dwayne McCay, who joins Ford in this year’s class and is a member of IHMC’s scientific advisory board.

Ford has had a wide-ranging career. In January 1997, he was asked by NASA to develop and direct its new Center of Excellence in Information Technology at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where he also served as associate center director. In 1999, Ford was awarded the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal. That same year, he returned to private life in Florida and IHMC.

In 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Ford to serve on the National Science Board. In 2005, Ford was appointed and sworn in as a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. In 2007, he became a member of the NASA Advisory Council, and in 2008 he was named chairman – a capacity in which he served until October 2011. In 2010, Ford was awarded NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest honor the agency confers.

In 2012, Dr. Ford was named to a two-year term on the Defense Science Board, and in 2013 he became a member of the Advanced Technology Board, which supports the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

This year’s Hall of Fame class also includes Michael J. DeLuca for his groundbreaking technology known today as “voltage scaling,” which significantly increased the battery life of portable communication devices, and the Hall of Fame’s first scientific couple, Drs. T. Dwayne and Mary Helen McCay, who hold 15 joint U.S. patents and have greatly contributed to increased patient safety and improved medical outcomes in facilities nationwide.

Other inductees include: Issa Batarseh, whose innovative research led to the creation of the first compact single solar photovoltaic (PV) panel; Phillip Frost, physician, inventor, and internationally-lauded businessman who invented a revolutionary disposable punch biopsy tool; Richard Gitlin, for his inventive research and development in digital communications, broadband networking, and wireless systems; and the late Thomas Maren, for inventing Trusopt®, the first commercialized topical treatment for glaucoma.

“We are delighted to be announcing this class of exceptional inventors whose work has greatly impacted Florida and our nation,” said Randy Berridge, who serves on the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame advisory board and as chair of the selection committee.

Nominees, who must have at least one U.S. patent and a connection to Florida, were nominated through an open nomination process and elected by a selection committee comprising distinguished leaders in research and innovation throughout Florida.

“Collectively, the 2017 inductees hold more than 260 U.S. patents,” said Berridge, “Among them are two industry inventors, the founder of one of the nation’s premier research institutes, and representatives of four Florida universities.”

“The accomplishments of this year’s inductees have been recognized by national and international organizations with many other honors and awards,” said Paul R. Sanberg, chair of the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame advisory board, senior vice president for research, innovation and economic development at the University of South Florida, and a 2015 inductee. “We are honored to be inducting them into the Hall of Fame.”

The Florida Inventors Hall of Fame was recognized by the Florida Senate in 2014 with a resolution sponsored by Senator Jeff Brandes that commended the Hall of Fame “for its commitment to honoring inventors and celebrating innovation, discovery, and excellence.” The Hall of Fame is located at the University of South Florida in Tampa and supported, in part, by the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.