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U.S. Robotics

From Academic Kids

U.S. Robotics (popularly nicknamed USR), based in Schaumburg, Illinois and founded in 1976, is a company that makes computer modems and related technologies.

History

USR was one of the first companies to offer high-speed dialup modems for personal computers, inventing its proprietary HST (High-Speed Transfer) protocol as a less-expensive alternative to the industry-standard v.32 family of protocols. Its later Courier Dual Standard modems were popular among BBS operators for a variety of reasons. USR sold its modems to BBS sysops at a significant discount, but even with the discounts, the modems were still expensive. The main draw for the modems was their ability to use both the HST and v.32 protocols, making them compatible with any modem from any manufacturer without having to step down to 2400 bit/s. USR modems also developed a reputation for reliability. Many BBSs would advertise their use of USR modems at logon.

In its modems that ran faster than 14.4 kbit/s, USR used industry-standard protocols. Increased availability of inexpensive v.32 modems in the early 1990s from companies such as Zoom Telephonics made HST a liability.

Later, when 56 kbit/s modems were introduced, USR again went its own direction, with its X2 technology battling rival K56flex before the creation of a formal 56K standard. Once again, after the V.90 industry standard became available, USR abandoned its proprietary protocol.

USR had two major product lines. The Courier modems were aimed at BBS operators and businesses, who were generally willing to pay a higher price in exchange for the promise of greater reliability and performance. The less-expensive Sportster line, introduced later, was aimed at consumers. Thanks to its reputation, USR was able to position itself as a premium brand, and it eventually unseated Hayes Communications as the market leader. In a further effort to reduce the retail price of its modems, USR was one of the first companies to market a Winmodem.

After acquiring Palm, Inc., inventors of the Palm Pilot in 1995, it was in turn acquired by and became a subsidiary of 3Com Corporation in June 1997. Some think 3Com purchased USR to get the Palm technology, which was becoming popular.

USR was then recreated as a spin-off of 3Com Corporation in June 2000 as an independent company, assuming 3Com's entire client modem business, but minus the Palm portion, which itself had been spun off three months earlier. Other portions of the original US Robotics remained in 3Com as the CommWorks Corporation. US Robotics then quickly built up its device portfolio, and today makes not only traditional dial-up modems, but also wired and wireless networking components including Ethernet switches, gateways/routers, and wireless access points.

With modems more of a commodity item today than they were in the 1980s and 1990s, the USR brand no longer carries the mystique it once did. Like other modem companies, it sells more Winmodems than anything else. However, its Performance Pro line is one of the handful of controller-based modems still on the market that are universally compatible with operating systems other than Microsoft Windows. As a result, USR—or at least the USR Performance Pro line—is still held in regard by computer professionals and users of the Linux operating system.

Trivia

The name for the company is a reference to Isaac Asimov, who is widely credited with inventing the term robotics, and whose Robot stories featured a fictional company named U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men. The 2004 Will Smith movie I, Robot, loosely based on Asimov's works and set in Chicago, uses U.S. Robotics as the name of the fictional robot manufacturer. The film's U.S. Robotics corporate logo resembles a former real-life USR logo. The 1999 Robin Williams movie The Bicentennial Man also features a fictional company named North American Robotics (NorthAm Robotics). The scenes at the company's headquarters were filmed at the offices of Oracle Corporation in Redwood City, California.

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