Amar G. Bose

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Amar G. Bose, chairman of Bose, with a Wave radio in 1993. Photo: Michael Quan, The New York Times

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Glenn Rifkin The New York Times July 12, 2013

The Times of India 2013/07/14

The Times of India 2013/07/14

Amar G. Bose, the visionary engineer, inventor and billionaire entrepreneur whose namesake company, the Bose Corporation, became synonymous with high-quality audio systems and speakers for home users, auditoriums and automobiles, died [in July 2013] at his home in Wayland, Mass. He was 83.

Contents

Family

Amar Gopal Bose was born on Nov. 2, 1929, in Philadelphia. His father, Noni Gopal Bose, was a Bengali freedom fighter who was studying physics at Calcutta University when he was arrested and imprisoned for his opposition to British rule in India. He escaped and fled to the United States in 1920, where he married an American schoolteacher.

An avid badminton player and swimmer, Dr. AK Bose spent several weeks each year at his vacation home in Hawaii.

Dr. Bose and his ex-wife, Prema, had two children, Vanu, now the head of his own company, Vanu Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., and Maya Bose, who survive him, as does his second wife, Ursula, and one grandchild.

Early career

At age 13, Dr. Bose began repairing radio sets for pocket money for repair shops in Philadelphia. During World War II, when his father’s import business struggled, Dr. Bose’s electronics repairs helped support the family.

The young Bose’s interest in electronics began with miniature trains. Unable to buy a new one, he bought old models that couldn’t be repaired by the shops and fixed them.

(TOI adds: This got him a reputation as well as some work, and once he extended his repairing skills to transistors, work came in a torrent.

(His school experience at Abington senior was less eventful, although Bose made his first connection with engineering as a Boy Scout when he was 12. One of the other scouts had a radio transmitter, and Bose learned that if he correlated the parts in the transmitter with a diagram, he could learn to read schematic drawings. At 13, he realized that he could pretty much fix anything electronic, and so he started a business repairing radios (it was still largely a pre-TV era) that grew rapidly because many able-bodied radio repairmen had gone off to war. He was already an entrepreneur in his teens.)

After graduating from high school, Dr. Bose was admitted to M.I.T. in 1947, where he studied under the mathematician Norbert Weiner, along with Dr. Lee.

Acoustic engineering innovation

As founder and chairman of privately held company [worth $1.8 billion in 2013], Dr. Bose focused relentlessly on acoustic engineering innovation. His speakers, though expensive, earned a reputation for bringing concert-hall-quality audio into the home.

And by refusing to offer stock to the public, Dr. Bose was able to pursue risky long-term research, such as noise-canceling headphones and an innovative suspension system for cars, without the pressures of quarterly earnings announcements.

{The Times of India adds: His latest project was a stunning new suspension system for cars (which would have been a boon for pot-holed India), about which he spoke to this correspondent in 2007. But it never made it to the market. The scuttlebutt in gearhead circles was he could never bring the cost under control and therefore it never hit the market, although there are plenty of promo videos online.)

In a 2004 interview in Popular Science magazine, he said: “I would have been fired a hundred times at a company run by M.B.A.’s. But I never went into business to make money. I went into business so that I could do interesting things that hadn’t been done before.”

A perfectionist and a devotee of classical music, Dr. Bose was disappointed by the inferior sound of a high-priced stereo system he purchased when he was an M.I.T. engineering student in the 1950s. His interest in acoustic engineering piqued, he realized that 80 percent of the sound experienced in a concert hall was indirect, meaning that it bounced off walls and ceilings before reaching the audience.

This realization, using basic concepts of physics, formed the basis of his research. In the early 1960s, Dr. Bose invented a new type of stereo speaker based on psychoacoustics, the study of sound perception. His design incorporated multiple small speakers aimed at the surrounding walls, rather than directly at the listener, to reflect the sound and, in essence, recreate the larger sound heard in concert halls. In 1964, at the urging of his mentor and adviser at M.I.T., Dr. Y. W. Lee, he founded his company to pursue long-term research in acoustics. The Bose Corporation initially pursued military contracts, but Dr. Bose’s vision was to produce a new generation of stereo speakers.

Direct/Reflecting speaker system

Though his first speakers fell short of expectations, Dr. Bose kept at it. In 1968, he introduced the Bose 901 Direct/Reflecting speaker system, which became a best seller for more than 25 years and firmly entrenched Bose, based in Framingham, Mass., as a leader in a highly competitive audio components marketplace. Unlike conventional loudspeakers, which radiated sound only forward, the 901s used a blend of direct and reflected sound.

Later inventions included the popular Bose Wave radio and the Bose noise-canceling headphones, which were so effective they were adopted by the military and commercial pilots.

Bose Corporation

In 1964, he chose his own name for his company. He later told The Times of India, ‘ We were trying out various combinations with ‘acoustics’ and ‘electronics’ but couldn’t register any of them till Professor Lee gave me a few tips. He said the name shouldn’t be restrictive, easy to pronounce in America and short so that the logo didn’t hog too much space. So the next time we had to come up with a name that was guaranteed to be registered, and there weren’t many options.’

The Masjid al-Haram and the Sistine Chapel

A Bose software program enabled acoustic engineers to simulate the sound from any seat in a large hall, even before the site was built. The system was used to create sound systems for such diverse spaces as Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Sistine Chapel and the Masjid al-Haram, the grand mosque in Mecca.

In 1982, some of the world’s top automakers, including Mercedes and Porsche, began to install Bose audio systems in their vehicles, and the brand remains a favorite in that market segment.

A teacher

Dr. Bose’s devotion to research was matched by his passion for teaching. Having earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1950s, Dr. Bose returned from a Fulbright scholarship at the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi and joined the M.I.T. faculty in 1956.

(He told The Times of India ‘An important lesson that I’ve learnt from my Indian background is that the fallout of research is not always tangible. While R&D in a given direction may not even spawn any product, it could give birth to other ideas. When I was a Fulbright scholar in India in 1956, I had visited the Ramakrishna Mission in Bangalore, where a swamiji asked me if all my ideas—that would later become patents—came after a long analytical process or as a flash of inspiration. I then realized it was the latter.’)

He taught there for more than 45 years, and in 2011, donated a majority of his company’s shares to the school. The gift provides M.I.T. with annual cash dividends. M.I.T. cannot sell the shares and does not participate in the company’s management.

Dr. Bose made a lasting impression in the classroom as well as in his company. His popular course on acoustics was as much about life as about electronics, said Alan V. Oppenheim, an M.I.T. engineering professor and a longtime colleague.

“He talked not only about acoustics but about philosophy, personal behavior, what is important in life. He was somebody with extraordinary standards,” Professor Oppenheim said.

The Times of India adds: However, his greatest output, audio and technology products aside, may well be the many brilliant students he produced (including Indian pioneers such as Suhas Patil, who began as Bose’s teaching assistant and went on to found the company Cirrus Logic).

Bose remained on the MIT faculty well into his twilight years. In 2011, to no one’s surprise, Bose donated most of the stock in his privately held company to MIT, his alma mater that worshipped him as much as he was devoted to it. “Amar Bose was an exceptional human being and an extraordinarily gifted leader,” MIT’s President Rafael Reif said in a statement on Friday, as news of his death trickled out. “He made quality mentoring and a joyful pursuit of excellence, ideas and possibilities the hallmark of his career in teaching, research and business. I learned from him, and was inspired by him, every single time I met with him.”

A risk taker

Dr. William R. Brody, head of the Salk Institute in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, was a student in Dr. Bose’s class in 1962. He told Popular Science: “His class gave me the courage to tackle high-risk problems and equipped me with the problem-solving skills I needed to be successful in several careers. Amar Bose taught me how to think.”

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