Larry Roberts

2017 Fellow

For his contributions to human and machine communications and for his role in the development of the ARPANET and the X.25 protocol

"The idea of the galactic network that Licklider talked about, probably more than anybody, was something that we had to start seriously thinking about."

— Larry Roberts

Lawrence G. Roberts is best known for his work on the development of the ARPANET, a key predecessor to the internet and the first major network built on the principle of packet switching, and later as a pioneer of commercial packet switching with his roles in Telenet and the widely deployed X.25 protocol. He was hired as program manager and technical architect for the ARPANET in 1966, and later became director of the main computing office at ARPA, where he oversaw the network’s initial deployment and funded the development of other experimental packet networks. He had previously done ARPA-funded research in computer-to-computer networking at Lincoln Laboratories. Roberts became a champion of packet switching, which sends data as tiny separate packets instead of the traditional telephone model using dedicated circuits; for connecting computers packets can move data far more efficiently.

Roberts left ARPA in 1973 to explore the commercial possibilities of packet-switched networks as founding president of Telenet Inc., which operated its own commercial network and manufactured switching equipment. During that period, he was a major figure in the design and international standardization of the X.25 protocol, which was widely adopted by PTTs worldwide and became the basis of many of the first large-scale packet-switched data services. X.25 remained a major standard until the commercialization of the internet in the early 1990s. Since Telenet was bought by GTE in 1979, Roberts has been founder and CEO of five network equipment startups: NetExpress, ATM Systems, Caspian Networks, Anagran, and FSA Technologies. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from MIT; his thesis advisor was information theory pioneer Claude Shannon.

Roberts has received numerous awards for his work, including the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Service Medal; the Harry Goode Memorial Award from AFIP; the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award; the Interface Conference Award; the Nobel equivalent L. M. Ericsson Prize; the IEEE W. Wallace McDowell Award; the ACM SIGCOMM Award; the IEEE Internet Award; the National Academy of Engineering Draper Award; Spain’s highest award, the Principe de Asturias Award; and the NEC Computer and Communication Award. He was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012.


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