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Amar Bose

Innovator, Educator, Philanthropist

By Bill Cotter

Amar Bose passed away recently and it was a reminder to celebrate his engineering contribution to all of us.

The brand name itself signifies the most advanced in speaker technology, exemplified by best-in-class products such as the Wave Radio and Noise Cancelling headphones. While we know Bose for his technological leadership in the area of audio reproduction, many may not know about his contributions to advancement in automobile suspension systems. He was a revered professor at MIT for more than forty-five years and founded the billion dollar corporation that bore his name.

Amar Bose was born in Pennsylvania in 1929. His mother, Charlotte, was a schoolteacher of European descent and his father, Noni Gopal Bose, fled from Calcutta in the 1920s where he had been imprisoned for his political activities during the Indian independence movement.

At the age of thirteen Bose earned supplemental income for the family by fixing radios and model trains in his town of Abington, Pennsylvania. He built the neighborhood's first television using surplus radar tubes and an oil-burner transformer. Upon graduating from high school, he was admitted to MIT "by the skin of my teeth" and borrowed $10,000 to pay tuition.* He would earn his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in Electrical Engineering there and was offered a position at MIT as an Assistant Professor.

His life-changing moment came after the purchase of a stereo system. Bose loved classical music and with paychecks from his new teaching job he splurged on a high-end stereo. But when he turned on the high-fidelity system, he was horribly disappointed in the quality of the sound. The spark of inspiration was ignited; he would devote his career to researching acoustics and psychoacoustics, the study of how sound is perceived. In particular he was fascinated by sound generated in the world's finest concert halls, observing that 80% of the sound waves bounced off walls and ceilings. Sound reproduction technology in the early 60s aimed at direct sound, but Bose flipped convention on its heels and developed the first speakers to incorporate reflected sound to mimic concert hall acoustics.

At the urging of his MIT mentors he formed the Bose Corporation in the mid 60s. His first speakers did not fare so well, but he kept the company afloat with military and commercial contracts to develop power-regulating systems for jets.

In 1966 he devised the first set of speakers that produced the ideal ratio of reflected and direct sound waves, incorporating an internal equalizer in place of conventional woofers and tweeters. In the 70s he refined the technology into the popular-selling 901 speakers. The 301 speakers and Wave Radio soon followed, as did agreements with high-end car manufacturers such as Porsche and Mercedes to equip their automobiles with state-of-the-art sound systems. In 1982 he designed the Noise Cancelling headphones which were later adopted by military and commercial pilots and are still widely used today.
Amar BoseAmar Bose in the early days of research


BoseBose speakers


Bose Comparison of factory-installed
and Bose suspension systems

Amar Bose never wanted to take the Bose Corporation public and continued to pour profits into long-term research projects that spanned decades. He is quoted in a 2004 interview in Popular Science Magazine as saying "I would have been fired a hundred times at a company run by MBAs. But I never went into the business to make money. I went into the business to do interesting things that hadn't been done before." *

In 1980 Bose undertook perhaps his most ambitious project ever; research on the Bose automobile suspension system would span almost thirty years. Bose had recognized limitations in the reaction speed of pneumatic and hydraulic systems. He replaced them with an electromagnetic solution at each wheel, using power amplifiers and control algorithms to produce instantaneous reactions. The result is a suspension that provides the cornering of a racecar and the smoothness of a luxury car.

Most will remember the legacy of Amar Bose for his technical achievements. But MIT engineering students will remember him as a life-changing professor who, for forty-five years, taught students lessons for success in life and work. Students from all disciplines were attracted to his class, referred to as "Life 101" in a student guide. One of his former students described Bose as "... commanding a lot of respect, because of the force of his intellect and his total dedication to the students. His class gave me the courage to tackle high-risk problems; it equipped me with the problem-solving skills I needed to be successful in several careers. Amar Bose taught me how to think." *

In 2011, as chairman of the Bose Corporation, Bose donated most of the company's non-voting shares to MIT, endowing the school with annual dividend payouts for sustained research.

Amar Bose passed away in his home in Wayland, Massachussetts on July 12, 2013.

* Quotes taken from Popular Science, July 15, 2013: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-07/curious-genius-amar-bose
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