Don Cone

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Not to be confused with Don R. Cone, who also worked at SRI
Don Cone
Born (1926-10-17)October 17, 1926
Inglewood, California
Died April 7, 2011(2011-04-07) (aged 84)
Fountain Hills, Arizona
Nationality American
Known for Development of the Packet Radio Van
Scientific career
Institutions SRI International

Virgil Donald "Don" Cone (October 17, 1926 – April 7, 2011) was a technician and later researcher at SRI International who developed and ran the Packet Radio Van that was used in the first ARPANET internetworked transmission.

Early life and education[edit]

Cone dedicated his early life to the study of photography, in particular at the Fred Archer School of Photography under Fred R. Archer, who was a partner of Ansel Adams.[1]

Cone served in the United States Army Air Corps for about a year near the end of World War II; he broke his wrist during basic training and was hospitalized in Coral Cables, Florida, and was reassigned as a medical photographer in that hospital.[1] After he was discharged, he worked for a commercial photographer in Pasadena, California.[1]

Early career[edit]

Around 1950, Don joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California as a technician in order to better financially support his family.[1] In the 1954, Don moved to Palo Alto to work as a technician for SRI; he initially worked in the Poulter Laboratory performing high-speed photography to support research into the use of explosives in oil exploration.[1] He moved to the Communication and Propagation Lab, which split in 1961; he stayed in communications. In that lab, he did a significant amount of international travelling to build equipment and perform antenna measurements.[1]

Later career[edit]

SRI's Packet Radio Van, designed by Don Cone

As part of the DARPA project to connect the disparate computers at its various contractors, there was a push to build a mobile packet radio laboratory to house a node of the early network, partly to simulate the needs of in-the-field military to connect to the network, and partly to test internetworking - connecting different communications protocols via the internet protocol suite.[2]

The Packet Radio Van, designed by Don Cone, resembled a bread van and contained all of the equipment needed to be an ARPANET node via packet radio. Other equipment included a shielded generator, flexible equipment racks, and air conditioning.[3] Due to his contributions around that time, Cone was promoted to Research Engineer.[1]

Cone retired from SRI in the early 1990s, and focused on his love of photography; he embraced digital photography when that technology developed.[1] He died of pancreatic and lung cancer on April 7, 2011.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "In Memoriam: Virgil Donald "Don" Cone" (PDF). SRI Alumni Association Newsletter. SRI International. August 2011. pp. 11–12. Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  2. ^ "The SRI Van and Computer Internetworking". Ed Thelen's Nike Missile Web Site. Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  3. ^ Nielson, Don (December 2010). "History Corner: SRI "Internet Van" to Be on Display in Computer History Museum" (PDF). SRI Alumni Association Newsletter. SRI International. p. 6. Retrieved 2013-01-20.