Sidhant Gupta can remember as a kid building circuits out of batteries and used wires. Little did he know that his childhood hobby would eventually translate into a research career and a spot on Forbes magazine’s 2011 “30 Under 30.”
This is an annual list compiled by Forbes’ of the nation’s top “disrupters” accredited with reinventing the world. The year’s “30 Under 30″ listed five individuals with links to the University of Washington. Among them was 27-year-old Gupta, a graduate student in the department of Computer Science and Engineering.
“I build technologies that make people’s lives easier,” he said.
Gupta’s research focuses on developing novel sensing technologies and supporting software for the home that is low cost, easy to use and requires minimal sensors. He also builds and evaluates innovative electro-mechanical haptic feedback interfaces.
Those big words essentially mean that he is developing household gadgets to better accommodate our daily needs. He gives the example of a simple plug-in sensor, a device that would measure energy emission throughout the house. Similar to a credit card statement, electricity bills would be broken down based on energy consumption for the month.
He hopes these gadgets, and others like it, will lead to energy-saving techniques for the future.
“That’s the vision of ubiquitous computing,” explained Gupta. “It looks at how you put a computer in your home, in the background, so you don’t have to think about interacting with the computer.”
Gupta derives some of his inspiration from science fiction. “Household computing systems” are characters in such sci-fi favorites as the 1960s television cartoon show “The Jetsons” and George Orwell’s book “1984.”
Gupta grew up in Delhi, India. From the age of 11 he knew that he wanted to study computer science. After completing his undergraduate work in India, he came to the United States in 2007 where he finished his master’s at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2009 and shortly after enrolled at the University of Washington. He is now a third-year doctoral student and expects to graduate within a year.
Gupta says that the field for sensing technologies is growing rapidly. He cites examples like Xbox Kinect, a motion sensing-device that hooks up to a video game console.
“This is the field of the near future. It’s not far-fetched,” he said.
He envisions, for example, an appliance that would recognize an individual’s routine when he sets his car keys on the kitchen counter. Immediately, an internal computing system would adjust the lights, turn on the heat, and ignite the stove-top.
“You don’t have to hold a remote but you’re controlling these entire systems through applications for your home,” Gupta explained.
He anticipates that his home sensor products will be on the market by the end of this year or early next. Though he hopes to continue working on his current research, one day he wants to return to India to bring the same opportunities that he benefited from as a student, to his home country.
“I was pretty surprised when I was selected for Forbes’ 30 Under 30,” said Gupta bashfully. “In my heart, I just see this as my hobby and if I’m being awarded for my hobby, that’s great. It’s great to be on that list among so many other talents.”
Gupta admits that it was not until later in his studies that he realized his love for research. He’d always considered himself an engineer. But whereas engineering focuses on solving problems, research, said Gupta, is working toward something better.
“Researching is solving problems with a vision. It’s thinking about years from now (what’s needed),” he explained. “The stuff you come up with doesn’t always necessarily work. You come up with an idea, you try it out and then you apply engineering to it to make it work.”