Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, an India born Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering will be honored, with a 2018 Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award for her work to enable the detection of potentially life-threatening health issues using commonly available smartphones.
She received her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the College of Engineering in Guindy, Chennai. She worked for Microsoft Research India for two years before beginning her graduate work at the University of Washington in 2013.
Taking inspiration from bats, which use sonar to navigate in the dark by sending out acoustic signals and using the reflections to identify objects,
Rajalakshmi has created technology that turns an ordinary smartphone into an active sonar system capable of detecting physiological activities, such as movement and respiration, without requiring physical contact with the device. The reflections are then analyzed using a combination of algorithms and signal processing techniques.
She used her system to disrupt the sleep industry by creating a non-intrusive, low-cost application called ApneaApp for detecting sleep apnea, a breathing disorder affecting 1 in 13 Americans that often goes undiagnosed. Before ApneaApp, diagnosing sleep apnea required an expensive polysomnography test that involved an overnight stay in a hospital or sleep clinic connected to a tangle of wires, or in-home systems with high failure rates due to the accidental detachment of sensors during sleep. ApneaApp, on the other hand, requires no instrumentation of the individual and can track a person’s breathing in a contactless manner from the comfort of their own bedroom.
Rajalakshmi and the University of Washington licensed the technology to ResMed, a global leader in sleep technology and medical devices. The technology was built into the new SleepScore app for Android and iPhone that helps individuals to monitor their sleep quality.
Her latest work focuses on using sonar to detect opioid overdoses. Roughly 100 people die each day in the US after overdosing on opioids, making it one of our most critical healthcare issues.
“My father was in the healthcare industry when I grew up and I spent a lot of time in these environments,” she explained. “The best part of my work is seeing real people using my technology and knowing that it benefits their well-being. As a computer scientist, I find that very fulfilling.” “Marconi was the pioneer of wireless communications,” she said.
“Being recognized by the Marconi Society is humbling and motivates me to excel even further in this field and to have a much larger impact.”