Sam Asano

Just the fax

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May 9, 2011

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Shintaro “Sam” Asano, a Fulbright scholar at MIT in 1959, once said his professors encouraged him to take risks and test new theories: “I was immersed in a free-thinking atmosphere,” he said. Perhaps that explains why years later, while working as a National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineer, when he struggled to explain a complicated camera over the phone to a colleague who had a heavy Southern accent, Asano had an idea. He wished he could just draw a picture and send it instantly.

While American businesses weren’t initially interested in Asano’s digital fax machine technology, it was licensed by NTT, a major Japanese telecommunications company, and took off there first. Why? It was faster to write down Japanese kanji characters and fax the message than to type messages on a teletypewriter.