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Just brilliant! Kumar selected to magazine's 'Brilliant 10' list

By: Greg Russell

Santosh Kumar
Santosh Kumar

Dr. Santosh Kumar made a conscious decision a decade ago to focus his research on projects that in some way might lessen the hardships and be of benefit to people around the world. That decision has proven to be popular, as in Popular Science.

The magazine has named Kumar, a University of Memphis assistant professor of computer science, to its annual "Brilliant 10" list in its November issue, which hit newsstands Oct. 12.

“My research has been motivated by its potential impact on society,” Kumar said. “It is personally satisfying to me when I see real people benefiting from my work. I am of the opinion that the best use of our limited stay on Earth is make this a better place to live in for current and future generations.”

Popular Science says the “Brilliant 10” list is “a selection of the brightest young researchers in the country,” and is made up of “10 young geniuses shaking up science today.”

The magazine bases its selection on researchers whose work makes a positive impact on the world. Kumar’s research does just that.

Kumar has developed two systems that rely on wireless technology and sensors that can benefit an individual in very different ways.

First, the AutoWitness system helps law enforcement agencies track down and locate stolen items, such as a computer, by using a wireless sensor.

“AutoWitness is a tiny chip that can be embedded in valuables that are likely to be taken in a burglary,” Kumar said. “The chip automatically detects the theft event and provides real-time tracking information to help catch the suspects and recover stolen assets.”

The size of a penny, the device can fit inside or attach to most items.

The second system developed by Kumar is AutoSense, which helps individuals who wear a wireless sensor to monitor and reduce their daily stress level and abstain from addictive behavior.

With Popular Science’s million-plus circulation and its widely read online site, Kumar’s research accomplishments have gone viral.

Depiction of how AutoSense sensors are worn unobtrusively and how human behaviors of the wearer are computed from the sensory measurements on a smart phone.
Depiction of how AutoSense sensors are worn unobtrusively and how human behaviors of the wearer are computed from the sensory measurements on a smart phone.

For the professor, who was born in the district of Begusarai in the state of Bihar in India, it is all about helping people.

“The common theme across both of these projects is that they aim to improve our quality of life by addressing some of the most pressing problems we face in our daily lives,” Kumar said. “Burglary is a traumatic experience for its victims, yet is quite widespread in even the most civilized societies.

“Stress and addictive behavior, on the other hand, lead to or worsen diseases of slow accumulation, such as cancer and heart disease. These are also quite prevalent in our society.”

Kumar said both projects were conceived and executed at the U of M.

The picture shows an overview of how AutoWitness works in real life.
The picture shows an overview of how AutoWitness works in real life.

“The Department of Computer Science and Research Support Services have been very supportive of my research,” he said. “Dr. Andy Meyers (U of M vice provost of research) has been very generous in his support for my research.

“This award recognizes the hard work of my students and postdocs and the generous contributions of my esteemed collaborators that together has translated the vision of AutoWitness and AutoSense systems into reality,” he said.

Popular Science writer Doug Canton traveled to Memphis from the magazine’s New York City office to interview Kumar.

University President Shirley Raines has pushed for a higher research presence since coming to the University nine years ago. She said Kumar’s honor is validation that the U of M is achieving its mission to become one of America’s top research universities.

“The University of Memphis faculty includes some of the brightest academic talent in the nation and the world,” she said. “For Dr. Kumar to be recognized as one of today's 10 most brilliant young scientists is a signal honor for him and a public recognition of the value of his research.”

Meyers said Kumar hit the ground running when he came to the University in 2006 after receiving his PhD from Ohio State University the same year.

“His four federal grants in his first four years are a remarkable achievement,” Meyers said. “His collaborative research has brought great academic partners, like Carnegie Mellon, UCLA and Purdue, and new corporate partners, to Memphis and to our University.

“Even more exciting is that his innovative research has the potential to impact real-world problems in health, security, logistics and many other areas important to our daily lives."

Kumar said the recognition is a great honor, but his “mission” is still incomplete.

“The real satisfaction will come when these projects are adopted widely and make a difference to real people. For AutoWitness, when it helps reduce burglary incidents in Memphis and elsewhere, and for AutoSense, when it helps individuals reduce their daily stress levels and helps them abstain from addictive behavior.

"As for the impact of this recognition around the world, I hope that it will inspire more people to address society's most pressing problems and improve the quality of life for people," Kumar added.

To read about Popular Science’s 2010 “Brilliant 10,” visit the magazine’s website at http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-10/brilliant-10-santosh-kumar-sensor-guru.

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