Qualcomm co-founder Andrew Viterbi was Tuesday named the winner of the $500,000 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering for his mathematical formula that paved the way for digital communications.

Andrew Viterbi and his late wife, Erna, benefactors of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and of the USC Shoah Foundation. Photo courtesy USC

He created the Viterbi algorithm nearly 50 years ago as a way of decoding convoluted data. Its use has spread into telecommunications applications and other high-tech areas like genetic sequencing.

“The Viterbi algorithm has enabled innovation across multiple disciplines,” said Draper President and CEO Kaigham (Ken) Gabriel. “Its pervasive impact has enabled technology that plays a critical role today in fields as diverse as medicine, national security and commercial telecommunications.”

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based engineering firm uses Viterbi’s formula to create communications systems that can overcome signal interference, such as jamming.

Viterbi, 80, will receive the prize Feb. 16.

The annual award is named for the late Charles Stark Draper, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who developed accurate and reliable guidance systems and instruments for the Apollo lunar missions and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In announcing Viterbi’s retirement in 2000, Qualcomm noted that his earlier inventions are used in the vast majority of digital wireless phones, data terminals and digital satellite broadcast receivers, as well as in such diverse applications as magnetic recording, speech recognition and DNA sequence analysis.

“Dr. Viterbi served as Qualcomm’s chief technical officer from July 1985 through July 1996. Prior to co-founding Qualcomm, Dr. Viterbi co-founded LINKABIT Corporation in 1968, where he served as executive vice president and later as president,” Qualcomm said.

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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