rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » News » Indian American techie wins prestigious US award

Indian American techie wins prestigious US award

Last updated on: September 20, 2011 14:39 IST

Shwetak Patel, a 29-year-old computer scientist who has invented a series of sensor technology systems for home environments with the goal of saving energy and improving daily life through a broad range of applications, is a recipient of one of the most prestigious awards in America, the MacArthur Genius Fellow.

Each of the 22 awardees will receive $500,000 (about Rs 2.4 crore) in no-strings-attached support over the next five years.

"MacArthur Fellowships come without stipulations or reporting requirements and offer Fellows unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore," said John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation in a statement.

It added: "The unusual level of independence afforded to Fellows underscores the spirit of freedom intrinsic to creative endeavours. The work of MacArthur Fellows knows neither boundaries nor the constraints of age, place, and endeavour."

Among the previous MacArthur fellows is the physician and bestselling medical writer Atul Gawande.

The Fellows this year include an architect, a sports medicine researcher, a cellist, a developmental biologist, a radio producer, a neuropathologist, a conservator, a poet, a technologist, and a public historian, MacArthur Foundation said. "All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future," it added.

The nominations are made secretly by an unnamed selection committee and the nominees have no idea that they are being considered for the honour. Patel had just returned from China from a conference when he heard the news on Monday.

"This has been a year of great change and extraordinary challenge, and we are once again reminded of the potential individuals have to make a difference in the world and shape our future," said Robert Gallucci, president of the MacArthur Foundation.

In a statement 'The MacArthur Fellows exemplify how individual creativity and talent can spark new insights and ideas in every imaginable field of human.'

Much of Patel's work has focused on the development of low-cost and easy-to-deploy devices that can detect and measure household energy consumption without an elaborate network of expensive instruments, the citation said.

"To allow residents to track their energy usage down to the level of individual appliances and fixtures," it explained, "Patel's distinctive approach leverages existing infrastructure -- such as gas lines, electrical wiring, plumbing, and ventilation ducts -- and requires only a minimal number of small, wirelessly connected sensors attached to the central hookup of each of these utility sources. When coupled with a machine learning algorithm that analyses patterns of activity and the signature noise produced by each appliance, the sensors enable users to measure and disaggregate their energy and water consumption and to detect inefficiencies more effectively. In addition to the resource conservation applications of his sensor systems, Patel is also exploring their potential for home security or elder care, as they serve the related function of sensing human activity and monitoring movement throughout a building's rooms."

While envisioning cutting-edge new tools to address pressing social challenges and to make the buildings we live in more responsive to our needs, Patel devises elegant, simple solutions that dramatically reduce the cost of implementation.

Patel received a BS (2003) and a Ph.D. (2008) from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Since 2008, he has been an assistant professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington.

Patel who grew up in Alabama breezed through undergraduate work at Georgia Institute of Technology in fewer than three years, Seattle Times wrote.

He said he wrote his first computer-software program in third grade and had his first soldering iron in fourth grade, the newspaper said.

While volunteering for Habitat for Humanity as a teenager, Patel became frustrated that he wasn't allowed to do more work, said Hank Levy, chair of the UW Computer Science Department.

So Patel became licensed as a plumber and electrician, per the Seattle daily.

"Some people are just born with the curiosity and the ability to invent new things," Levy said. "And he works very, very hard."

Image: Shwetak Patel

Arthur J Pais