A New Company, and a New Industry
Cognex Corporation was founded in 1981 by Dr. Robert J. Shillman, a lecturer in human visual perception at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Shillman decided to leave academia to start Cognex, investing his life savings of $100,000 into the company. He invited two MIT graduate students - Marilyn Matz and Bill Silver - to embark on this business venture with him, offering free bicycles to convince them to leave MIT for a summer. What began as a summer job for Marilyn and Bill turned out to be the start of a career, as they stayed on to help co-found the company. These three individuals gave Cognex its start and its name, which was derived from the phrase "Cognition Experts".
First Vision System
The company produced its first vision system, DataMan, in 1982. DataMan was the world™s first industrial optical character recognition (OCR) system capable of reading, verifying, and assuring the quality of letters, numbers, and symbols marked directly on parts and components. Cognex's first customer was a typewriter manufacturer, who purchased the system to inspect the keys on each typewriter to ensure that they were located in the correct position.
Cognex was one of the earliest companies in a market that was soon crowded with competitors, all intent on securing a position in the new field of machine vision. In these early years, machine vision generated great excitement as part of the robot revolution. People believed that machine vision would revolutionize not only manufacturing, but even areas as diverse as transportation and household chores. The reality was not to be as easy or come as soon as predicted.