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U of M Professor Santosh Kumar is Named One of the “Brilliant 10” Young Scientists University News
For release: October 12, 2010

For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901/678-2843


Santosh Kumar
Santosh Kumar
Dr. Santosh Kumar, a professor of computer science at the University of Memphis, has been named one of the 10 most brilliant young scientists in the United States by Popular Science magazine. Kumar was selected from hundreds of nominees from colleges and industries around the nation.

The 10 scientists were nominated and chosen by the magazine’s contacts in the scientific fields, by poll of professional organizations, and by query of the nominees’ peers and colleagues.  The nominees had to be under 38 years of age and they had to have made “a significant discovery or contribution to their fields within the past 18 months” (at the time of their nomination).

This is the ninth year of the recognition.  Over the past decade, Brilliant 10 recipients have gone on to achieve even more prestigious awards, such as the Fields Medal and MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

Kumar, who has taught at the U of M since August 2006, was 33 at the time of his nomination last May.  Two major contributions led to his selection as one of the country’s top young scientists – “AutoWitness” and “AutoSense.” “AutoWitness” has the potential to revolutionize police departments’ ability to respond to theft of property, and “AutoSense” has the potential to help people reduce their daily stress and avoid addictive behavior.

In the “AutoWitness” project, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Fedex Institute of Technology (FIT), his team, in collaboration with University of Michigan, has developed a tiny, low-cost, ultra-low-power sensor to detect and track the theft of property.  “AutoWitness” has the potential to improve the historically low rate of recovery of stolen property, to disrupt the distribution networks for stolen property, and, ultimately, to deter the theft of property because of the greater chance of thieves’ being caught.  The device has been demonstrated to work in real life, and the police departments of Memphis and Jackson, Tenn., have expressed interest in helping test the device in those cities.

The “AutoWitness” sensor can be attached to an item, and if that item is moved and transported by vehicle, the movement of the vehicle causes it to begin to track the movement of the stolen goods as they are being transported and transmit this information to the police via cell phone towers, thus enabling the police to track the suspects.  The sensor cannot be detected by scanners now used by some thieves to check for electronic tags.

According to FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, more than $17 billion in losses resulted from property crimes in this country in 2008.  Burglary accounted for 23 percent of that figure, and larceny-theft accounted for 68 percent.  Motor vehicle theft accounted for the rest.  Almost 80 percent of stolen autos are recovered, but the recovery rate for the other two categories is much smaller.

“AutoWitness” is the first system able to provide automatic detection of theft plus real-time tracking of the stolen property; it relies on low cost inertial sensors, not GPS, thus making it immune to GPS or radio outages; and the battery in the low-cost, low-energy device lasts for a year or more.  In addition to aiding in the recovery of stolen property, the device is expected also to provide valuable data on the behavior of burglars, such as how long before they leave the scene of a burglary, if they stop during their escape, where they may stop, and the characteristics of their stolen property distribution network.  The authorities’ being able to respond more successfully to property crimes is expected to lead ultimately to safer neighborhoods.

In Kumar’s other project, “AutoSense,” which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under its Genes Environment & Health Initiative (GEI) and supplemented by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the “FieldStream” research grant, Kumar is the leader of a group of 15 professors from seven universities – Carnegie Mellon, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, UMass, Ohio State, and Minnesota – and encompassing five academic disciplines.  The group has developed the first unobtrusive, wearable sensor that can collect scientifically valid physiological measurements, such as heart rate, respiration patterns, blood alcohol level, among others, in the natural, day-to-day environment of any person who is wearing the sensor. 

To date, it has been worn by more than 50 human volunteers for a total of more than 2,000 hours in their daily lives as part of various scientific studies, with very good results, and is being adopted rapidly for use in scientific studies around the world.  Within six months of its first becoming available, it was adopted by scientists at The Johns Hopkins University and the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).  It is also being requested for use by researchers at Columbia University and UC Irvine and others.

The sensory measurements collected by “AutoSense” are transmitted on a mobile phone where human behaviors can be inferred in real-time using smart phone software. Behaviors and conditions that can be recorded include stress, cravings, illicit drug usage, smoking, drinking, and conversation. The value of “AutoSense,” once it is in common and widespread use, is its ability to deliver automatically interventions on the spur of the moment to help people cope with stress and addiction urges, when and where the stress or urge strikes.

The Popular Science article is available online at

More information on Dr. Kumar’s research is available at his Web homepage,

See the Autowitness video Learn more about AutoWitness, one of Santosh Kumar's projects.

More about Santosh Kumar

Dr. Kumar's homepage

Promising U of M research aided by new Fellows program

NSF Awards U of M $2.7 Million for Making Wearable Wireless Sensors More Personal

Kumar’s anti-theft sensor steals the show

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