India-born MIT Professor Hari Balakrishnan Wins Prestigious Marconi Prize For Societal Impact Of His Work In Communication Networks

India-born MIT Professor Hari Balakrishnan Wins Prestigious Marconi Prize For Societal Impact Of His Work In Communication Networks

by Anand Parthasarathy - Sunday, February 26, 2023 02:10 PM IST
India-born MIT Professor Hari Balakrishnan Wins Prestigious Marconi Prize For Societal Impact Of His Work In Communication NetworksMIT Professor and 2023 Marconi Prize winner Dr Hari Balakrishnan (Photo: MIT)
Snapshot
  • "His work has saved lives and enabled users to have better experience with network services," says the citation.

    IIT Madras alumnus Hari Balakrishnan hails from a unique Indian family where both parents and sister are renowned scientists.

    Previous Indian winners of the Marconi Prize are Yash Pal, Arogyaswami Paulraj, and Arun Netravali.

The Marconi Prize for 2023 has been awarded to Nagpur-born Hari Balakrishnan, the Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States (US).

The prize, announced annually by the Marconi Society and named after Italian wireless pioneer Guglielmo Marconi, is considered among the world’s topmost honours in the field of information and communication technology.

The Marconi Society cites "the broad impact to society of Prof Balakrishnan’s fundamental discoveries in wired and wireless networking, mobile sensing, and distributed systems."

It adds: “By focusing his research on the application of technology to solve large societal problems, Balakrishnan’s work has made millions of people safer and has made the Internet and wireless communications more efficient and robust."

Balakrishnan was born in Nagpur and raised in Mumbai and Chennai. He is an alumnus of the Kendriya Vidyalaya at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, and obtained his Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degree in computer science from IIT Madras in 1993.

He proceeded to the US, where he was awarded a doctorate in computer science by the University of California, Berkeley, in 1998.

He began his scientific career at MIT the same year and has worked there ever since.

Between 1999 and 2004, Balakrishnan led the development of 'Cricket', an indoor location system harnessing ultrasonic and radio signals to estimate distances.

Wireless and Mobility

Hari Balakrishnan's CarTel project contributes to road safety in 25 countries. (Graphic: Infosys)
Hari Balakrishnan's CarTel project contributes to road safety in 25 countries. (Graphic: Infosys)

He later co-developed a mobile sensing system, CarTel, by putting mobile sensors in vehicles to measure road and driving conditions.

Using this data, he extracted insights that help drivers address phone distractions, risky speeding, hard braking, and the like.

The work led to the creation of Cambridge Mobile Telematics — a platform for safe driving that reduces risk and automates road assistance in 25 countries.

Prof Balakrishnan’s research in networking, says an MIT release, "has led to better communication protocols for mobile devices communicating over the Internet, such as the techniques he developed to understand and improve the performance of data transport over wireless networks."

“He has made significant contributions to network congestion control, overlay and peer-to-peer networks, robust routing, and Internet architecture, developing methods that have found their way into several commercial products and network standards,” the release adds.

Upon receiving the Marconi Prize this week, Prof Balakrishnan said: "I like to be among the first to open a new area, rather than be the last word in an area."

He added: "I want our world to be safer, more resilient, and more sustainable, and (I) am inspired by how people use applications and the network. This helps me think about new research directions in networked systems and ways in which they can help solve societal problems."

Prof Balakrishnan will receive the Marconi Prize at a ceremony in Washington, DC, on 27 October.

Indians who have previously received the prize include space scientist-educationist Prof Yash Pal (1980), MIMO wireless standard inventor and  Stanford University emeritus professor Arogyaswami Paulraj (2014), and  former president of Bell Labs, Arun Netravali (2017).

A Scientific Family of PhDs

Prof Balakrishnan was earlier honoured with the Infosys Prize in 2020. He comes with a scientific lineage that is almost unique in India.

All in the family: Two generations of the unique Balakrishnan family of theoretical physicists and electrical and aeronautical engineers
All in the family: Two generations of the unique Balakrishnan family of theoretical physicists and electrical and aeronautical engineers

Both his parents are theoretical physicists of renown:

After obtaining his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in the US, Hari's father, Dr V Balakrishnan, served at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, and at the Atomic Energy Department’s Kalpakkam centre, and later taught at IIT Madras.

Two of his courses are among the most popular on the government’s SWAYAM online education channel, garnering over two million views.

His mother, Dr Radha Balakrishnan, chose to return to India after obtaining her doctorate in the US, and is a retired professor from the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.

Prof Hari’s sister, Dr Hamsa Balakrishnan, formerly a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is also at MIT today as the Associate Head of the Aeronautics and Astronautics department.

Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.

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