Feature Slides

NITRD 20th Anniversary Symposium

NITRD 20th Anniversary Symposium

The Knight Conference Center, Newseum, Washington D.C.

February 16, 2012



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Advances in embedded systems, wireless networking, and sensing capabilities - supported by Federal investment in the last 20 years - have transformed the way we collect and respond to information gathered from the physical world. Sensors are increasingly an integral part of our daily lives. For example, the modern automobile is composed of hundreds of small processors and sensors all seamlessly coordinating with each other in the background to enable efficient operation of the car, but more importantly, to provide critical safety capabilities (anti-lock braking, traction control, collision avoidance, etc.). Once luxury features, many of these are now mandated ("standard") in cars. In this way, the car is illustrative of a world in which computing is becoming "invisible" - sensing and providing feedback to control systems to operate behind the scenes, while still providing just enough information back to the human.

With the advent of low-cost embedded sensing platforms, such a vision is being extended to many other parts of our lives, including energy and resource management, health care, and home safety. For example, the Microsoft Kinect, which was originally intended as a gaming platform, is having huge impact in areas such as smart home sensing and surgical robotics.

In another example, there has been significant work in the development of a new generation of electricity, water, and natural gas measurement systems that are low-cost, easy-to-install, and, most importantly, capable of providing information on consumption down to the individual appliance or devices. The aim is to provide high granularity resource sensing systems for homes and businesses that will fundamentally transform how end uses of electricity, water, and natural gas are understood and studied and, ultimately, how those resources are consumed. A common approach to resource management is viable: a retrofit solution of monitoring side-effects of resource usage that are manifest throughout a home's internal electricity, plumbing, or gas infrastructure through the combination of clever sensing and machine learning. Sensing this information presents an enormous benefit to various stakeholders including residents, utilities and policy makers. Households can now better understand their consumption practices, determine easy and cost-effective measures to increase their energy efficiency, and ultimately reduce their overall consumption. Even a 10 to 15 percent reduction in electricity use across U.S. homes would be substantial, representing nearly 200 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. It is advances in sensing and embedded systems that are making this vision a reality.


Shwetak Patel is an assistant professor in the departments of Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington. His research interests are in the areas of Human-Computer Interaction, Ubiquitous Computing, Sensor-enabled Embedded Systems, and User Interface Technology. His particular focus is on developing easy- to-deploy sensing technologies and approaches for activity recognition and energy monitoring applications. He is also exploring novel interaction techniques, mobile sensing systems, and wireless sensor platforms. Dr. Patel was also a founder of Zensi, Inc., a residential energy sensing and feedback company, which was acquired by Belkin, Inc in 2010. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008 and B.S. in Computer Science in 2003. Dr. Patel was a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2011. He received the TR-35 award in 2009, was named top innovator of the year by Seattle Business Magazine in 2010, was named Newsmaker of the year by Seattle Business Journal in 2010, was named most influential person by Seattle Magazine in 2011, and was a recipient of the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship in 2011. His past work was also honored by the New York Times as a top technology of the year in 2005.