As a child,Michael Hansen hung out at Radio Shack and wrote such good programs on the store’s computers that the salespeople ran them as demos. Software mastered, he learned hardware, earning a graduate degree in electrical engineering. In 1993 he joined Princeton, NJ-based Sarnoff to tackle visual processing— “the hardest darn problem I’d ever seen.” Before he knew it, Hansen, who also found time to become a private pilot, was leading a $5 million-a-year group. In 2000 his team developed a chip that lets inexpensive portable devices process visual data collected by surveillance cameras. The chip provides hundreds of times more visual processing than a general-purpose Pentium microprocessor at one-tenth the cost, says Peter Burt, director of the vision technologies lab at Sarnoff. The for-profit R&D company believes networks of such simple devices will have great commercial value in military surveillance, law enforcement and auto safety. In order to, as he puts it, “shorten the path from technology development to new products,” Hansen is now working on his MBA.