October 5, 2021
A man with a sweater vest walks into the room. People stop eating their spaghetti lunches mid-bite, push away their co-workers so they can get a closer look, silently scream in glee, and show off their t-shirts with his face emblazoned on them. He furiously signs autographs as bodyguards hold off paparazzi and cameras flash. “Our rock stars aren’t like your rock stars,” the ad streams near the end. The man is not Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, or Shah Rukh Khan. No, he’s Ajay Bhatt, the “co-inventor of the USB.”
In today’s world, where tech is increasingly connected by Bluetooth and WiFi and wires are fast disappearing, it’s easy to forget the key technologies that got us here. And even for the must-have-latest-technology among us, it’s difficult to avoid the USB. Short for Universal Serial Bus (bus because it was “something that gets you from here to there, efficiently and consistently,” one of the co-inventors once explained), the interface allows computers to connect and share data with peripheral devices. The USB is now so ubiquitous that most cannot charge our phones, use a computer mouse or a keyboard, or transfer files across devices without it.
The seed of the idea behind the USB started with Ajay Bhatt, an electrical engineer at Intel in Portland, Oregon. He noticed how difficult it was for his daughter to use their home printer for her schoolwork — in fact, the seemingly simple task was too complicated for even an engineer. Inspired by how easy it was to plug a device into the common electrical wall outlet, Bhatt would put together a team of experts from Intel and other companies to design a new way of connecting computers. Companies like Intel, Apple, and Microsoft had been working on better computers for consumers, but it was the USB that would transform how people used computers forevermore, and go on become one of the most successful, enduring connection technologies in history.