Sun Apr 28, 2019, 05:34 PM


Electronic Engineering Times, December 27, 1999, George Rostky

It looked like a fountain pen, albeit a fat one, but it was really a radio. The U.S. Army liked it, not just because it was very small for a radio, but because it introduced a new concept in circuit packaging—small size and uniform construction. RCA's Surface Communications Division showed this pen-size radio to the U.S. Army in October 1957, shortly after the Russians launched Sputnik, and demonstrated that the world's leader in technology, the Americans, were way behind. At a time when the American military was desperate to catch up, this ultimate in packaging density, called a micromodule, could be just the answer.

The Army loved the concept. In April 1958, it awarded RCA a $5 million contract in what became known as the Micromodule Program. Just a few months later, in January 1959, RCA's Aerospace Communications and Controls Division built a stable inertial-guidance platform using micromodules.

And just two months after that, in March, at the annual show and convention of the Institute of Radio Engineers (an IEEE predecessor), at a joint press conference with the Signal Corps, RCA announced the commercial availability of Micromodule Designer's Kits for breadboards.

Then, in July 1959, the Army added $2.4 million to RCA's contracts—for new microelements, as they were called—and for higher-temperature capabilities for some elements. In February 1960, the Army added $8 million for demonstration helmet radios and miniature computers.

The micromodule, as the package was called, was fundamentally akin to the short-lived Project Tinkertoy, which the Navy funded in 1951. Tinkertoys were based on using 5/8-inch-square ceramic wafers, each of them bearing a discrete component. That concept was the brainchild of Robert Henry at the National Bureau of Standards.

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