University of Maryland


Rob Engelke, Ultratec CEO and Trace Center Alum Receives Honorary Ph.D.

May 3rd, 2012

After getting a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from UW-Madison in 1968, Engelke began building and selling computers to campus researchers – until he recognized that deaf people could not use the telephone. Working in his basement in 1977, Engelke figured out how to build a miniature TTY (teletypewriter) inside the plastic housing of an early electronic calculator. The VIP Communicator became the first product of Ultratec, the company founded in 1977 by Rob and his wife, Sue.

This caught the attention of Gregg Vanderheiden, Director of the Trace Center, and he invited Rob to join the Trace staff. By July 1980, Engelke had invented the Superphone, the first TTY with memory, ASCII code, voice output, and touch-tone input. With the Superphone’s success, Rob dedicated full time to Ultratec, which became the premier company internationally in the area of deaf telecommunication.

“Not only did Rob reinvent the TTY, he also invented an entirely new form of communication for individuals who are hard of hearing, called captioned telephony,” says Gregg Vanderheiden.

The Trace Center and the Engelkes have maintained close ties through the years. During construction of the Engineering Centers Building (1998-2003), Ultratec housed the Trace Center in one of its buildings at the University Research Park. Christopher (Cre) Engelke was a visiting researcher at Trace, studying the engineering students as they learned to design standard products that are more accessible for people with disabilities.

At its May 18 commencement ceremonies, Rob Engelke is being awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the UW-Madison. The Trace Center congratulates Rob and all at Ultratec and CapTel, who have remained dedicated to improving the lives of people with hearing loss, creating extraordinary advances that have enabled deaf and hard-of-hearing people worldwide to communicate via telephone.