October 2018

The First Baby Picture on a Camera Phone was Taken in Santa Cruz

By Brad Kava

On June 11, 1997, Santa Cruz in- ventor Philippe Kahn was waiting dur- ing his wife, Sonia Lee’s 18-hour labor when the idea struck.

He wanted to send out pictures of his daughter Sophie, when she was born at Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center. He had a cell phone and a camera, but up to then, no one had thought to link them.

He thought about how clumsy it would be to take the photo and upload it to a laptop to email it out, and with time on his hands, he zipped over to Radio Shack for soldering wire. He linked his Casio QV-10 point-and- shoot camera to his Motorola Startac phone, wrote some code and–voila!– two stars were born.

His invention became the most widely circulated technology in the world, he says.

“The vision was ‘point, shoot and share instantly,’” says Kahn, 66. “That vision gave birth to citizen journalism, telemedicine in practical ways, and more generally letting Ms. and Mr. Everyone take and share more pictures than ever before. That’s a game- changer.”

His daughter is now a journalism student at NYU.


Kahn, a French immigrant with degrees in music (as a classical flautist) and math, showed up in Silicon Valley on a tourist visa and wanted to stay. He knew no one here and didn’t have a Green Card, but ended up getting a job making printer cables. He was making a different kind of connection, too— with tech power players, and it led to his co-founding of the software com- pany Borland International in Scotts Valley in 1983. He went through ups and downs, including getting forced out of the company he founded in 1995 after an economic downturn.

But Kahn’s entrepreneurial spirit wouldn’t quit. After the cell phone camera, he started Fullpower Technologies, which focuses on health apps for beds and watches. His devices tell how well and how long you slept and how much exercise you are getting.

A world-class sailor, Kahn has crossed the Pacific 10 times, and started the Pegasus Racing team. It was those long trips that inspired the Fullpower invention, as a way to monitor sleep during grueling trips. The monitors use technology that tracks micro-movements to see how fitful sleep is.

He still loves Santa Cruz and has offices downtown above Forever 21.

“The first time I experienced the Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz, I decided that Santa Cruz has it all: surfing waves, sailing wind, mountain-biking trails,” Kahn says. “What an ideal playground to create new technology with like- minded passionate engineers.”

Sutter hasn’t put up a plaque to commemorate the invention, but they should. Meanwhile, there’s a great video with Kahn in it celebrating the day here: https://vimeo.com/221117048

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