Heroes Of {Hardware} Revolution: Bob Widlar

2023-04-27 22:37:01

Bob Widlar (1937-1991) is no doubt one of the vital well-known {hardware} engineers of all time.  In actual fact, it might not be an exaggeration to say that he’s the one who single-handedly began the entire Analog IC Trade. Certain, it’s Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby who invented the idea of Built-in Circuits, however it’s Widlar’s genius and pragmatism that introduced it to life. Although he was not first to understand the constraints of planar course of and designing ICs like discrete circuits, he was the primary one to supply an precise resolution – µA702, the primary linear IC Operational Amplifier. Combining his engineering genius, understanding of financial facets of circuit design and consciousness of medium and course of limitations, he and Dave Talbert dominated the world of Analog ICs all through the 60s and 70s. For a big time frame, they have been accountable greater than 80 % of all linear circuits made and offered in the complete world.

The checklist of his designs consists of gems reminiscent of µA709, enchancment over authentic µA702 and a Fairchild’s flagship product for years, µA723 — first built-in voltage regulator and LM10 — the primary ultra-low-voltage opamp, which remains to be in manufacturing right now. College students normally find out about Widlar by way of the textbook-classic: Widlar Current Source, a key piece in a lot of his designs, and the Bandgap Voltage Reference – each of which give an infinite provide of mind-boggling examination issues. If there may be one theme that’s widespread throughout all of Widlar’s designs, it’s that he has by no means designed an apparent circuit in his life. Each Widlar design comes with a twist, a novel thought and fairly often, a prank. A basic instance of that is the story of LM109, the business’s first three-terminal adjustable voltage regulator. In 1969, Widlar wrote a paper wherein he argued towards feasibility of monolithic voltage regulators resulting from temperature swings and packaging limitations. Since he was already an engineering legend by that point, the business took it critically and other people gave up attempting to pursue such gadgets. Then in 1970, he offered a circuit — LM109 — which used his bandgap voltage reference to attain precisely such “unimaginable” performance. It’s probably that he submitted each works inside days from each other.


Along with being an excellent designer, Widlar was a personification of an age to come back in Sillicon Valley, combining counter-cultural and in-your-face perspective with entrepreneurial ardour and need to construct merchandise that individuals love. He labored immediately with prospects and wrote his personal app notes and knowledge sheets. In actual fact, Widlar’s µA702 laid out the blueprint for the way all analog IC knowledge sheets are to be written sooner or later. His precept was “designing for minimal telephone calls” and “when you make one million ICs; you get half one million telephone calls in the event that they don’t work proper”. He was each destroyer of the worlds and creator of recent markets; he got here into Fairchild claiming that “what they do in analog is BS”, however left the corporate as a dominant participant in linear IC for years to come back, totally on the wings of his designs. He then moved to Molectro (owned by Nationwide) however shortly ended up turning the mum or dad firm the other way up and making into an Analog powerhouse. On the age of 33 he cashed out and retired in Mexico. However his fingers couldn’t keep idle for too lengthy. He quickly got here again as a contractor for Nationwide and, in 1980, ended up founding Linear Expertise with Robert Swanson and Bob Dobkin,

National Semiconductor (Widlar's Idea)

Nonetheless, he all the time remained a troublemaker, free thinker, and an HR nightmare… nearer in spirit to somebody like Hemingway than a fellow “skilled” engineer. Such perspective was contagious and it impressed a complete new wave of “prankster” analog geniuses like Bob Pease and Jim Williams. Widlar’s pranks are too many to rely and it’s actually onerous to choose one which captures the spirit of the instances the most effective. Perhaps it’s when Widlar introduced sheep to the entrance of Nationwide as a response to the agency not mowing the lawns resulting from cost-cutting (he actually simply wanted an excuse to harass the higher administration). Or when he cherry-bombed the intercom speaker, once more, simply to upset considered one of Nationwide’s Vice Presidents. A number of the pranks have been precise {hardware}, like a “hassler” circuit he constructed to detect audio, convert it to a really excessive audio frequency and play again the transformed sound. The online impact of such a design was that the louder somebody talked within the workplace, the extra annoying the “ringing” impact attributable to the suggestions was. As an individual would cease shouting to listen to what’s inflicting the ringing, the impact would disappear as nicely. This fashion, he managed to get everybody within the workplace into talking quietly, Pavlov-style.

Widlar and the Sheep : A Performance Piece

Widlar handed away in 1991 however his legacy lives on. He really was the unique {hardware} hacker and extra than simply an engineer – he was an Artist. It’s due to guys like him that Analog nonetheless has that particular really feel and is extra about “invention” than simply following the simple path between A and B. And that’s the reason Analog guys nonetheless greet everybody else with a “Widlar Salute”.

Widlar Salute

Now, when I’ve completed my inspection, and I’m nonetheless mad as hell as a result of I’ve wasted loads of time being fooled by a foul part – what do I do? I normally WIDLARIZE it, and it makes me really feel loads higher. How do you WIDLARIZE one thing? You are taking it over to the anvil a part of the vice, and also you beat on it with a hammer, till it’s all crunched all the way down to tiny little items, so small that you simply don’t even have to comb it off the ground. It makes you’re feeling higher. And you already know that that part won’t ever vex you once more. That’s not a joke, as a result of typically if in case you have a foul pot or a foul capacitor, and also you simply set it apart, a couple of months later you discover it slipped again into your new circuit and is losing your time once more. Once you WIDLARIZE one thing, that isn’t going to occur. And the late Bob Widlar is the man who confirmed me learn how to do it.

Bob Pease – Troubleshooting Analog Circuits


[1] Bo Lojek – Historical past of Semiconductor Engineering, Springer, 2007

[2] Bob Pease – Troubleshooting Analog Circuits, 1987

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Widlar

[4] http://readingjimwilliams.blogspot.com/2012/04/my-favorite-widlar-story.html

See Also

[5] http://analogfootsteps.blogspot.com/search/label/Bob%20Widlar

[6] http://electronicdesign.com/analog/what-s-all-widlar-stuff-anyhow

[7] http://silicongenesis.stanford.edu/transcripts/dobkinwilliams.htm

[8] http://edn.com/electronics-blogs/anablog/4311277/Bob-Widlar-cherry-bombs-the-intercom-speaker-item-2


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