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MIT Professor’s IoT Sensors Make Roads Safer

Again in 2005, earlier than smartphones had been usually accessible, MIT Professor Hari Balakrishnan was so fed up with commuting delays in Boston that he constructed a cellular system to observe street circumstances.

​Hari Balakrishnan





Member grade


Alma maters

Indian Institute of Know-how, Madras, and the College of California, Berkeley

He and his analysis group at MIT’s Pc Science and Synthetic Intelligence Laboratory developed CarTel, quick for automobile telematics. Utilizing sign processing and machine studying, their sensing system for automobiles was capable of infer the presence of potholes and different impediments from adjustments in visitors circulate, which it measured with GPS and an accelerometer. Their analysis received a number of awards, and the system was coated by The Boston Globe.

In 2010 Balakrishnan and two cofounders commercialized CarTel by launching Cambridge Cellular Telematics. Right now the Massachusetts firm is the biggest telematics service supplier on this planet. Insurance coverage corporations, automobile producers, rideshare companies, and public companies use CMT information to evaluate driver habits, encourage safer driving, dispatch roadside help, and extra.

Balakrishnan, an IEEE Fellow, is that this yr’s Marconi Prize winner for his “basic discoveries in cellular sensing, networking, and distributed programs.” The award, given by the Marconi Society, is taken into account to be the highest honor in communications.

“On paper this award honors me, however it actually is a recognition of my 30-plus Ph.D. college students, postdocs, collaborators, and the group at CMT who’ve labored extremely laborious in inventive methods to take analysis concepts and have them actually influence the world,” he says. “It honors the sphere of cellular sensing and networked programs.”

Hari Balakrishnan talks to the Marconi Society about his profession highlights and his ideas on receiving the prize.Marconi Society

Utilizing information to make driving safer

Balakrishnan got here up with the concept for CarTel whereas speaking with fellow MIT Professor Samuel Madden, a director of the college’s Knowledge Methods and AI Lab and an skilled on information administration and sensor computing.

“I advised him we must always begin a analysis undertaking that takes sensors that we each know so much about, connect them to vehicles, measure what’s taking place, after which attempt to perceive the info,” Balakrishnan remembers. “This was earlier than iPhones, Androids, and Google Maps.”

They later based CMT, with Madden serving as its chief scientist.

“CarTel was one of many first initiatives in cellular sensing,” Balakrishnan says. “We confirmed that it may work at scale.

“I used to be making an attempt to determine the way to commercialize it utilizing the notion of cellular sensing for social good.”

Assist got here in 2009 from William V. Powers, a seasoned gross sales government who grew to become Balakrishnan’s enterprise companion. He’s additionally a CMT cofounder and the corporate’s CEO.

Balakrishnan says that though the startup had the know-how, it didn’t have a enterprise mannequin. After studying articles about how insurance coverage corporations had been utilizing costly {hardware} to measure folks’s driving to set premium costs and uncover fraudulent claims, they discovered their mannequin.

“Our mission is to make the world’s roads and drivers safer.”

“It clicked in my head that we had proven, in precept, how to try this with shopper telephones and cheap Web of Issues [IoT] units that might be put right into a automobile with out skilled installers,” he says.

That early system advanced into DriveWell, an AI-driven platform that gathers information from displays together with accelerometers, gyroscopes, and place sensors in smartphones, dashcams, and IoT units such because the DriveWell Tag.

The platform combines the data with contextual information to create an image of how drivers are working their automobiles, measuring elements reminiscent of laborious braking, extreme dashing, and telephone distraction, Balakrishnan says.

“Our mission is to make the world’s roads and drivers safer,” he says.

DriveWell has supplied companies to greater than 30 million automobiles to this point. Insurance coverage corporations together with Admiral, Discovery, HUK-Coburg, MS&AD, and USAA use CMT’s packages to supply reductions to raised drivers. CMT lately partnered with Hyundai to supply its clients real-time roadside help and restore companies. There are additionally DriveWell, FuelStar, and Openroad cellular apps for motorists who need suggestions about their driving.

The primary indoor location system

Balakrishnan has created different programs that use sensors for sensible functions. Between 1999 and 2004, he oversaw the event of the Cricket indoor location system. It mixed radio frequency and ultrasound applied sciences. Beacons mounted on partitions and ceilings publish data on an RF channel, which sends out a chirping sign. The beacon then sounds out a corresponding ultrasonic pulse. Receivers hooked up to cellular units hear for the RF indicators and the ultrasonic pulse. Cricket makes use of the totally different speeds of sound and of RF to calculate the gap between the receiver and the beacon.

The system supplied area identifiers, place coordinates, and orientation. Cricket supplied distance ranging and positioning precision of between 3 and 5 centimeters. It was utilized in areas the place GPS didn’t work nicely, reminiscent of hospitals, workplace buildings, and analysis facilities.

“GPS solely works outdoor,” Balakrishnan says. “Even right now, you possibly can’t get GPS indicators inside. When your apps present you the placement inside, it’s utilizing different applied sciences.”

The analysis group open-sourced the {hardware} and software program, and greater than 1 million items had been constructed and deployed.

“This strategy didn’t scale to each system on this planet,” Balakrishnan says, “as a result of including ultrasonic {hardware} to each system just isn’t sensible. Nonetheless, with trendy smartphones able to sending and receiving ultrasonic indicators on their audio system and microphones, the strategy developed in Cricket would possibly grow to be helpful sooner or later. Certainly, some current proposals for contact tracing for COVID-19 have used this strategy.”

portrait of two men in tuxedos against a green backdrop with white text  Info for editor if needed: This yr’s IEEE Medal of Honor recipient Vint Cerf congratulates Marconi Prize winner Hari Balakrishnan on the Marconi Awards Gala, held on 27 October in Washington, D.C.Marconi Society

A love of analysis and academia

Balakrishnan earned a bachelor’s diploma in pc science in 1993 from the Indian Institute of Know-how, Madras. He picked the sphere, he says, as a result of he thought it might let him make sensible use of arithmetic.

“I knew nothing about pc science,” he says. “I had by no means programmed a pc earlier than. However I knew I used to be excited about issues that had been mathematical in nature, and I loved each math and physics significantly. After a couple of yr and a half, I felt like I understood what the sphere was about. By the point I completed my undergraduate diploma, I completely cherished it.”

Whereas pursuing a Ph.D. in pc science on the College of California, Berkeley, he grew to become captivated with conducting analysis, he says. He loved it a lot, he says, that he wished to make a profession of it.

He’s additionally identified for his early analysis on the way to enhance wi-fi networks—which might be discovered within the IEEE Xplore Digital Library and which received the 1998 Affiliation for Computing Equipment’s Doctoral Dissertation Award.

Within the closing yr of his Ph.D., in 1998, he determined to pursue a tutorial profession. He interviewed for a school place at MIT and knew instantly it was the place he wished to work, he says. The college employed him that yr, and he has labored there ever since.

“I felt like this was the place the place folks had been on the identical wavelength as me,” he says. “It’s at all times good to go to a spot the place folks recognize what you do.”

Regardless of his entrepreneurial success, Balakrishnan continues to show.

“I simply actually get pleasure from working with college students and simply love analysis,” he says. “I get pleasure from educating college students and, frankly, they train me as a lot as I train them.”

The IEEE neighborhood

Balakrishnan says he intially joined IEEE as a scholar to get the discounted price for membership and convention registrations. However after he started working, he realized that it’s vital to be a part of a “skilled neighborhood that has like-minded individuals who care concerning the fields that I care about,” he says. “IEEE has benefited my profession as a result of I’ve been at conferences and occasions the place I’ve made skilled connections that can final a lifetime.”

He’s additionally a member of the U.S. Nationwide Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

IEEE acknowledged him in 2021 with its Koji Kobayashi Computer systems and Communications Award for “broad contributions to pc networking and cellular and wi-fi programs.”

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