The sixth winner of The Royal Academy’s Sir Frank Whittle Medal has been named as Michael Ramsay, co-founder of TiVo Inc., the creator of and leader in digital video recorder technology, for his outstanding achievement in the field of ‘engineering innovations in games, entertainment and the media’.

The Royal Academy of Engineering Sir Frank Whittle Medal reflects the spirit of the late Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE CB FEng FRS, one of the most creative engineers of all time. This medal is “awarded to an engineer, with strong connections with the United Kingdom, for outstanding and sustained achievement which has contributed to the well-being of the nation”. The field of activity changes annually.

Michael Ramsay pioneered the TiVo technology that is changing the world of home entertainment - the culmination of a lifetime of innovation in computer graphics, workstations and consumer software technologies.

In 1997 he co-founded Teleworld, which became TiVo Inc., the company that invented, developed and delivered the very first digital video recorder (DVR), a device that allows television viewers to automatically find and record their favourite shows every time they’re on, enabling them to watch what they want, when they want. Television on-demand enabled by DVRs, is regarded as one of the most important inventions in the history of television and is rapidly becoming a ‘must have’ item for TV viewers throughout the world.

With DVRs, TV viewers can pause live TV, fast-forward through advertisements and set-up TiVo Season Pass™ recordings for their favourite series and never miss an episode. Under Ramsay’s steer, these innovations have sparked a revolution in home entertainment where viewers are taking control of their home entertainment away from the major broadcast networks. While the technology was pioneered by TiVo in the US, DVRs are now available and popular in Europe and Asia. In the US alone, ten million DVRs are now installed in homes; of these over 4.4 million subscribe to the TiVo service.

Using a complex technology that has never been duplicated by its competitors, over the last 8 years the company has amassed a large portfolio of patents and proprietary technology that is a testament to its innovation and market leadership.

Prior to TiVo, Ramsay was a senior executive at Silicon Graphics Inc (SGI), from 1986-1997. In 1994 he became president of Silicon Studio, a subsidiary of SGI that he founded to pioneer the development of 3D graphics technology that revolutionized the movie and game industries. Ramsay’s products were used to create the special effects and 3D animations for movies such as Jurassic Park, Terminator 2 and other blockbusters. The technology has enabled animators and special effects artists to create realistic and compelling experiences, impossible to duplicate in any other way – to the delight of movie audiences worldwide.

Michael Ramsay is a native of Edinburgh who moved to California’s Silicon Valley in 1975 to pursue a career opportunity with Hewlett-Packard. He received a BSc (First Class Honours) in Electrical Engineering from the University of Edinburgh in 1972.

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering Sir Frank Whittle Medal reflects the spirit of the late Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE CB FEng FRS, one of the most creative engineers of all time. This medal is “awarded to an engineer, with strong connections with the United Kingdom, for outstanding and sustained achievement which has contributed to the well-being of the nation.” The field of activity changes annually.
  2. The Whittle Medal was first awarded in 2001 to the creator of the world-wide web, Professor Tim Berners-Lee OBE FREng FRS for his achievements in communication. In 2005 the Medal was awarded to world expert in electrical and electromagnetic devices, Professor Peter John Lawrenson, Emeritus Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Leeds in recognition of his generally applicable design methologies and the development of electrical machines used worldwide, including the invention and commercialisation of switched reluctance drives.
  3. Frank Whittle was born in Coventry in 1907, the son of a skilful mechanic and inventor. From an early age he experimented in his father’s factory and was fascinated by the fledgling aviation industry. He joined the RAF in 1923 as an apprentice. His talents were soon recognised and he qualified as a pilot at the RAF College, Cranwell, before reading Mechanical Sciences at the University of Cambridge. While at Cranwell he had developed a thesis on jet propulsion and patented his design in 1930, but officials at the Air Ministry dismissed his ideas as impractical. However, in 1936 he and some associates founded a company, Power Jets Ltd, to develop the theory. Despite political and financial adversity, Whittle’s jet engine made its maiden flight on 15 May 1941, powering the purpose-built Gloster E28/39. By 1944 the engine was in service with the RAF. The technology quickly spread and has been fully exploited worldwide.
  4. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community

For more information please contact

Amy Abbott, Manager, Events and Awards, The Royal Academy of Engineering