Internet Pioneer Lawrence Roberts Has Died
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 31 December 2018

Dr Lawrence (Larry) Roberts designed and managed the first packet network, ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. He passed away at his home in Redwood City, California, on December 26, 2018 aged 81.



Lawrence Gilman Roberts
December 21, 1937 - December 26, 2018

Lawrence Roberts is recognized as one of the four founding fathers of the internet along with Bob Kahn, Vint Cerf and Len Kleinrock. The four of them were awarded the 2001 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering, an annual award for engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society.

In 1966 Roberts joined ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency where he became the project manager for ARPANET, a big computer network. As a researcher at MIT, Roberts, had already built a small two-computer system linking MIT and SRL. The first login, as recalled by Roberts, was beset by problems that may seem familiar:

"We set up a telephone connection between us and the guys at SRI...,"

"We typed the L and we asked on the phone, "Do you see the L?"

"Yes, we see the L," came the response.

"We typed the O, and we asked, "Do you see the O."

"Yes, we see the O."

"Then we typed the G, and the system crashed"...

The two key features of ARPANET attributed to Roberts are distributed layout of the original and the way it shuffled data between its nodes, using packet switching, the idea proposed by Kleinrock.

The first four computers, those of UCLA, UCSB, Stanford and Utah,  were connected to Arpanet in 1969 and it grew rapidly as universities and other research institutions joined in. It grew to 40 machines in 1972 and persisted until 1983 when it was folded into the larger internet and became one part of that network. 

Lawrence Roberts was inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame on April 23, 2012 when this video footage was recorded:


Other awards for his work came from across the globe include the L.M. Ericsson prize (Sweden, 1982) for research in data communications; the ACM SIGCOMM Award (USA, 1998); the IEEE Internet Award (USA, 2000); the Principe de Asturias Award (Spain, 2002) and the NEC Computer and Communication Award (Japan, 2005).

More Information

Lawrence Roberts, New York Times Obituary

Lawrence Roberts Internet Hall of Fame bio

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 12 January 2019 )