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John Merchant
  • In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in John Merchant's name to Plugged In Band Program, the non-profit co-founded and co-directed by his daughter and son-in-law, Sandra and Tom, located at 40 Freeman Place, Needham, MA 02492 (www.pluggedinband.

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Memories & Candles

“To Greta and family my love and sympathy. I have many happy memories of all of you.Magda (Tisza) ”
1 of 3 | Posted by: A friend

“I was saddened to read of John's passing. I knew John from our time working together at the Honeywell Radiation Center in the early 1970s. His...Read More »
2 of 3 | Posted by: Alan Rohwer - Boxborough, MA

“So sorry for your loss may the God of all comfort help sustain you in these troublesome times. In Psalm 119:73 gives us an assurance of His love and...Read More »
3 of 3 | Posted by: Ruth


John Merchant passed away peacefully in his home of 55 years in Needham, MA, on March 18, 2018, surrounded by his loving family. He was 88.

Mr. Merchant was born on July 21, 1929, in Cardiff, Wales, the only child of Hector Merchant and Hilda Murray Merchant. He graduated from the University of London with a BS degree in General Science in 1949, and a BS degree in Mathematics (with 2A honors) from the University of Wales in 1952.

He was in the Royal Air Force in Wales from 1952 to 1954, servicing ground radio equipment. From 1954 to 1958, he worked in the UK in radio engineering. He emigrated to Canada in 1958, where he developed an aircraft simulator before eventually moving to Needham in 1962 and working at Allied Research Associates. From 1963 to 1994, he was a senior staff engineer at Honeywell Infrared and Imaging Systems (subsequently Loral/Lockheed Martin/BAE).

Much of Mr. Merchant's work was funded by the US Department of Defense to develop better ways of tracking ships and planes in foggy weather and at night. While at Honeywell, he invented the remote oculometer, an optical sensor that measures eye direction from a distance. Oculometers were then supplied to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the US Air Force for use with astronauts and pilots training on simulators, and later adapted for missile guidance.

In 1977 Mr. Merchant published articles about the oculometer in Optical Engineering and in the British magazine New Scientist, among other journals. This led to its discovery by the international medical community and its application to the diagnosis and treatment of mental diseases and learning disabilities, in addition to many other uses.

The mainstream media also began reporting on the oculometer in 1977, including articles in Time Magazine and Newsweek and a BBC television interview by science historian James Burke. Mr. Merchant received ten patents for his inventions and won a number of awards from scientific and engineering groups, including Honeywell's Engineer of the Year Award and Technical Achievement Award.

In 1994 Mr. Merchant retired from Honeywell and formed RPU Technology, a consulting business engaged in innovative vision systems with military and commercial applications. He devoted most of his remaining years to writing articles, giving talks, and working on a book about his most passionate interest, space exploration via telepresence (the use of virtual reality technology, especially for remote control of machinery and for remote participation in distant events).

He was designated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as a technical expert for raising awareness as to how telepresence might be used in relation to space exploration, the environment, energy issues, and highway congestion.

In 1998 one of his telepresence articles was included in Taking Sides: Controversial Issues in Science, Technology, and Society. He argued for space exploration with telepresence robots rather than humans as a safer and more cost-effective approach, as has already been shown on Mars.

Mr. Merchant closely followed international politics in his free time. He was a devoted husband and father, known as "Dad" by many people beyond his immediate family. In addition to pursuing his own visionary ideas, he wholeheartedly supported the dreams of family members, especially his wife's passion for acting.

Mr. Merchant is survived by the love of his life, his wife of 55 years, Greta Aschaffenburg Merchant; three daughters, Lenore Parker (and her husband, Allen), Claudia Ruiz, and Sandra Rizkallah (and her husband, Tom Pugh); five grandchildren, Eric Ruiz, Mikki Pugh, Jessica Rizkallah, Liz Pugh, and Emma Martin; eleven great-grandchildren; his sister-in-law, Bette Aschaffenburg; his nephew and niece, David and Karen Aschaffenburg; and many adopted family members and friends.

Special thanks to Annet, Dennis, Gurdy, Margaret, Mimi, Monique, Paul, Sasha, and Saul, who became part of our family through their loving and devoted care of John and Greta, and for the vital role his hospice nurses, Beverly and Michelle, played in his final weeks.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, April 14th, at 2 p.m. at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, 23 Dedham Avenue, Needham (http://uuneedham.org).

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in John Merchant's name to Plugged In Band Program, the non-profit co-founded and co-directed by his daughter and son-in-law, Sandra and Tom, located at 40 Freeman Place, Needham, MA 02492 (www.pluggedinband.org).