For release: October 12, 2010
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901/678-2843
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
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
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
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 http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-10/brilliant-10-santosh-kumar-sensor-guru
More information on Dr. Kumar’s research is available at his Web homepage, http://www.cs.memphis.edu/~santosh/