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Shyam Gollokata
Shyam Gollakota has his wilderness navigation certification from The Mountaineers. (Courtesy of Shyam Gollakota)

Shyam Gollakota envisions a future in which his research and technological breakthroughs will transform computing as we know it. It’s a powerful prediction, and it’s based on the consumption of less power.

Gollakota, a co-founder of Jeeva Wireless and an assistant professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, is a leader in the field of wireless networking. He was named one of MIT Technology Review’s innovators under 35 in 2014; part of the Popular Science “Brilliant 10” in 2016; and was among the Forbes “30 under 30” in 2015 and 2017.

While those all sound pretty fancy, we’re here to name him GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.

Research by Gollakota’s group has led to breakthroughs in multiple domains including ambient backscatter for zero power communication; gesture recognition using Wi-Fi; computing on battery-free devices; and mobile health applications such as the first contactless sleep apnea diagnosis using a smartphone.

At the beginning of this year, his stealthy startup raised $1.2 million in funding.

Want to know the password to the Wi-Fi of the future? Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Shyam Gollakota:

Shyam Gollakota. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne)

What do you do, and why do you do it? “Internet connectivity and communication continues to transform the field of computer science and information technology. I want to create a future where the energy consumption of providing internet connectivity is negligible and we can design computers that can compute, interact and communicate without worrying about power consumption. My goal is to build the technologies that will go into every one of the next billion internet devices and I co-founded Jeeva Wireless to make this happen.

“I am also an assistant professor at the University of Washington. Jeeva Wireless was born out of the University of Washington and I love my role as a professor in making it happen.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “For the past few decades, we have seen this science fiction vision of embedding connectivity into everyday objects. This vision, until recently, was not possible because of the reality of existing communication technologies — there is no existing wireless technology that can provide reliable and long-range communication at tens of microwatts of power as well as cost less than a dime.

“This however has recently changed because of a technology called ambient backscatter where we can build communication modules that can reach distances of hundreds of meters, cost less than a dime and consume 1,000-10,000x lower power than existing radio technologies. This in the near future will allow us to achieve this science fiction vision of cheap reliable connectivity everywhere and will transform computing as we know it.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “A couple of things inspire me: 1) creating innovations and technologies that disrupt existing industries or create new industries, and 2) building applications using existing technologies that help people with their health, quality of life and efficiency.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Google Maps. Despite having the wilderness navigation certification from The Mountaineers, I get lost easily while driving.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “This is a picture from my lab at UW CSE where my graduate students work. It is pretty messy because we don’t have the time to clean up since we are busy with all the experimenting and inventing :).”

Shyam Gollokata workspace
Shyam Gollakota’s lab space at the UW. (Courtesy of Shyam Gollakota)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I am still learning how to best manage my work. The one thing I try to do however is avoid formal meetings that are a drain on time, as much as possible.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac!”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Janeway, of course. Her strength, power and determination remind me of my mother.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine. I believe technology will transform humanity for the better in ways we can’t currently fathom. I want to go 1,000 years from now and see how we solved some of the big problems we face today including clean energy, health, hunger and income inequality.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “We are doing it!”

I once waited in line for … “Voodoo Doughnut in Portland for more than an hour on a rainy afternoon. We ended up buying a dozen or more donuts for two people and ate them over the course of a day. Definitely not the right thing to do.”

Your role models: “Elon Musk. I am envious of the scale and impact of the problems he is going after. Even if a fraction of what he is doing succeeds, they will transform humanity in a positive way.”

Best gadget ever: “Amazon Echo. The speech recognition is incredible. If they play it right they are positioned to be the hub for smart homes.”

Current phone: “Pixel.”

Favorite app: “Podcasts.”

Favorite cause: “National Parks Conservation Association. National parks are one of the best big ideas that this country gave to the world. We need to protect them for the future generations.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Deep learning.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Zero power communication from Jeeva Wireless :).”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Don’t let failure stop you! My motto is if I am not failing once every few years, I am not taking enough risks!”

Website: University of Washington, Department of Computer Science and Engineering

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