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As a teenager he created the necessary circuitry for analog and digital computers. Being a member of the US Air Force he earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Oklahoma.
In 1968 he was assigned to the Research Laboratory Division of Kirtland Air Base in New Mexico, where he met Forrest Mims III. Reunited with a friend of the University, Stan Cagle, and with the official Bob Zaller, the four of them founded MITS to commercialize rocket telemetry systems for amateurs. In the fall of 1970 the company was divided by discrepancies over the strategy they had to take, since Roberts wanted to start producing calculators, while Cagle and Mims wanted to build an infrared alarm system. Roberts and his friend bought the business part of Cagle and Mims, although Mims would return later to write technical manuals.
Roberts wrote an article in November 1971 that was published in Popular Electronics magazine about the MITS 816 calculator kit and the business started to profit. By 1974, however, competing companies were making the obsolete kit, so Roberts created the Altair 8800 and wrote a related article that was highlighted on the cover of the Popular Electronics January 1975 issue. The article enthused a student at Harvard University called Bill Gates, and his good friend Paul Allen and both contacted Roberts to write a BASIC interpreter for his machine. Roberts agreed with them to hire them and Gates dropped out of Harvard University. Later Gates and Allen would leave MITS to start a new company called Microsoft, currently very famous. The article would also inspire the creation of the Homebrew Computer Club by a group of Altair 8800 enthusiasts, and from this club came twenty-three software companies, including the now famous Apple Computer.
In 1977, MITS was purchased by Pertec Computer Corporation, and Roberts (35 years old) joined the Mercer University School of Medicine. He worked as a rural doctor in the State of Georgia until his death.
Ed Roberts married Joan Clark (born 1941) in 1962 and had five sons: Melvin (born 1963), Clark (born 1964), David (born 1965), Edward (born 1972). and Martin (born in 1975) and a daughter, Dawn (born in 1983). They divorced in 1988.
Roberts married Donna Mauldin in 1991. They were married when Roberts was interviewed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April 1997. Since 2000 he was married to Rosa Cooper until his death.
Roberts died on April 1, 2010 after spending several months with pneumonia.
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