Douglas T. Ross

Douglas Taylor (Doug) Ross (1929 - 31 Jan 2007) was an American computer scientist, Chairman of SofTech, Inc. and a pioneer in mathematics and computing. Many consider Ross to be the father of APT - Automatically Programmed Tools - the language that drives numerically-controlled manufacturing. He also originated the term CAD for computer-aided design.


The son of psychiatrists who were medical missionaries, Doug Ross was born in China and returned to this country with his parents when he was an infant. He grew up in Canandaigua, N.Y., where his parents worked at Brigham Hall, a private psychiatric hospital. He received his BS Cum Laude in Mathematics from Oberlin College in 1951, and at MIT his S.M. in Electrical Engineering in 1954, and had completed full course requirements for a Pure Mathematics PhD by the summer of 1956, but, as Head of the MIT’s Computer Applications Group, he had no time to complete exams or thesis.

In the 1950s he participated in the MIT Whirlwind (computer) project which was the first to display real-time text and graphics. In 1969, Ross founded SofTech, Inc., which was an early supplier of Pascal compilers. Ross continues to lecture at MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department and is the chairman emeritus. He retired at Softech, having served as the company’s president from 1969 to 1975, when he became Chairman of the Board of directors.

Among his many honors are the Joseph Marie Jacquard Memorial Award from the Numerical Control Society, in 1975, and the Distinguished Contributions Award from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in 1980, and Honorary Engineer of the Year Award from the San Fernando Valley Engineer’s Council, 1981. At MIT in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science they named the Douglas T. Ross Career Development Associate Professor of Software Development after him.


Whirlwind computer

At MIT, Ross joined the Servomechanisms Laboratory in 1952 in the MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department. Ross was the lab’s only mathematician at the time. Here he began building the department’s Computer Applications Group. Among his considerable work in the department was programming contributions to MIT’s Whirlwind computer. The Whirlwind project, originally intended to control a US Navy flight simulator to train bomber crews, had run into problems and the Navy was losing interest. Jay Forrester was the leader of the Whirlwind project, who wrote a study proposal to use Whirlwind for air defense. Work on the Whirlwind project continued, and the computer was the first that could display real-time text and graphics on a screen. The computer was also the first to use core memory for its RAM.

Automatically Programmed Tool

Ross is considered by many to be the father of APT, or Automatically Programmed Tool. In short, APT is a language and system that makes numerically controlled manufacturing possible. The name is derived from the acronym for Automatically Programmed Tool. APT is used to program CNC machine tools to create complex parts using a cutting tool moving in space. It is used to calculate a point-to-point path that a tool must follow to generate a desired form. APT is a CAM system based on a special-purpose language.

It was created and refined during the late 1950's and early 1960's to simplify the task of calculating geometry points that a tool must traverse in space to cut the increasingly complex parts required in the aerospace industry. The use of this early language was used widely into the 1970s and is still a standard internationally.

Computer-aided design

Ross is probably better known for originating the term “computer-aided design” or CAD, as well as for being the father of CAD. In short, CAD involves the use of computers to design various engineering, architectural, and industrial objects. CAD also refers to the software and hardware used to design models of those products. At MIT Ross leds the Computer-Aided Design Project through the 1960s, which was involved in the research and development of language theory, language design, generalized compiler construction, computer graphics hardware and software.. Also Ross helped to develop the software engineering language AED.

Structured Analysis and Design Technique

Ross also developed the Structured Analysis and Design Technique and founded SofTech to market products based on the system.

See also


Doug Ross has written dozends of articles and some reports. A selection:

  • 1961. "Computer-aided design". in: Commun. ACM 4(5): pp. 235.
  • 1961. "A generalized technique for symbol manipulation and numerical calculation". in: Commun. ACM 4(3): pp. 147-150
  • 1968. Investigations in computer-aided design for numerically controlled production With John Erwin Ward. Electronic Systems Laboratory, Electrical Engineering Dept., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1968. "Automatic generation of efficient lexical processors using finite state techniques". With Walter L. Johnson, James H. Porter and Stephanie I. Ackley. In: Commun. ACM 11(12): pp. 805-813.
  • 1976. "Structured Analysis for Requirements Definition". With Kenneth E. Schoman Jr.. In: ICSE 1976: p. 1.
  • 1976. "Toward Foundations for the Understanding of Type". in: Conference on Data: Abstraction, Definition and Structure 1976: pp. 63-65.
  • 1977. "Structured Analysis for Requirements Definition". With Kenneth E. Schoman Jr. In: IEEE Trans. Software Eng. 3(1): pp. 6-15.
  • 1977. "Structured Analysis (SA): A Language for Communicating Ideas". in: IEEE Trans. Software Eng. 3(1): pp. 16-34.
  • 1985. "Applications and Extensions of SADT". in: IEEE Computer 18(4): pp. 25-34.
  • 1989. "The NATO Conferences form the Perspective of an Active Software Engineer". In: ICSE 1989: pp. 101-102.


External links

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