King of Connectors is 20 years old. We speak to its India-born inventor

29th November 2015
King of Connectors  is 20 years old. We speak to its India-born inventor
Principal inventor of the USB Ajay Bhatt of Intel ( Photo: IndiaTechOnline). Inset USB connectors Type C ( left) and TypeA.

USB -- the mother of all connectors is 20 years old -- and its India-born  inventor,  Ajay Bhatt of Intel,  is working to  make it even better.
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, November 30 2015: If you are 40-plus, you will remember  the PCs  of the early 1990s:  their rear walls a mess of multi-sized holes  -- a serial  port, a printer  port, a PS/2 port for mouse and keyboard,  a port for the  modem, another for the ethernet cable, yet another  for the audio connection.... Then came a  small network  nirvana : the  Universal Serial Bus  or USB  connector  which   seemed to work with most PC peripherals  -- printer,  external storage, music system.  Granted, it never seemed to fit the first time  you inserted it, but it lived up to its name  -- Universal.
Flash forward to the latest avatar of the  USB  -- the Type  C   --  first unveiled in January  this year at the CES show in Las Vegas.  ( the ones we use most of the time,  today are Type A).  The  latest  12-inch MacBook  from Apple   has just one   USB  Type C  port   for everything. One size, does indeed fit all.. er, almost!  We are not yet ready for a Type C-only world  and the  peripherals at the other end of the PC or tablet or phone cable  sport a masala mix of Type  A and B including their micro sizes. So be prepared to carry  some  adapters  for some months to come. 
Side by side with the  evolution of the USB  has come  bump ups in the speed with which it transfers data.  The latest  USB 3.0 is twice as fast ( at least)  as the   USB 2.0.    But Type C, while  exceeding  the speed of USB 3, is radically different in shape  from all earlier versions.  It looks very similar at first glance to the microUSB  connector we use with phones and tablets.  But there is a huge difference:  Type C is flippable  -- ie you can connect it any way you like because its design is symmetrical --  removing the one big   hassle of the old USB connectors. 
The Type  C also handles  more power up to 20 volts and  5 amperes ( or 100 watts). This means   it can be used   to charge  almost all devices -- even a laptop  typically  needs only  60 watts. Speed-wise  at 10 GBPS it is rated at twice  the speed of a Type A USB 3 cable. And  most useful of all,  it is bidirectional  -- ie both ends look the same.  Caveat: Since we have   to live with Type  A for some years,  many of the new  cables will have Type C at one end and Type A at the other to connect  legacy equipment. 
But the push has come to shove -- connector-wise -- and as we slide into 2016, we can expect to   increasingly  work in a new era of  zippy,  hassle-free connectors that  do it all: power-up devices  and  transfer data, while they -- literally -- link everything  to everything
Ajay Bhatt: The 'Connection" Man
For the  man   who principally invented the  Universal Serial  Bus 20 years ago this month,  the challenge
was simple -- and personal:  how to ensure his wife could negotiate  the maze of ports in a PC and connect
a printer properly,  without  having to call for assistance. It was not a trivial task  --with  different printers 
needing different ports.   
Ajay  Bhatt, then with Intel,  decided to try and create a single  solution to replace serial and parallel ports.   
In November  1995, his work,   backed by half a dozen patents, resulted in  the USB  1.0 Release. Intel
decided  to issue  the standard,   free  of licensing fees for all makers -- which is why the USB has
become the world's most ubiquitous  connector  -- there are more than 10 billion out there.  
It is also the reason, Bhat never made a paisa  out of his invention.  But he has no regrets.
An electronics engineering  graduate from the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda ( now  Vadodara)   
and an MS from City  University New York,  he  joined  Intel in 1990.  Currently  Intel  Fellow and Chief  
Architect   for  the  PC Client Platform  Group, Bhatt  wanted to be an architect --literally --and  even
attended classes in the arts  department of Baroda University, before  deciding it was not for him and
switching to engineering
I spoke on the phone to Oregon, US,   with Ajay  Bhatt last week  as he looked back at two decades
of the  USB.  "Its use  has   exceeded our expectations",  he  said, " It's been an amazing road -- and  
by and large,  the vision of a single connector for all forms of the PC has been realised".  He is deeply
involved in refining the standards for  Type C  and is excited at the possibilities of  USB  connections
| powering up devices  as well as carrying data.

His core work at Intel  today is on  future client platforms  and he told  me the day  is not far off,  
when  PCs   will boot up and  shut down  in 2 seconds  and can be powered wirelessly.    In fact,
 the man who radically  simplified wired connections,   is prepared for the day when everything the USB 
does,  will be done -- wirelessly!