UW Prof, Entrepreneur Shwetak Patel Awarded ACM Prize in Computing

The Association for Computing Machinery on Wednesday said it has awarded Shwetak Patel, a computer science and electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington, the 2018 ACM Prize in Computing.

Patel, who is also a successful serial entrepreneur, will receive a cash prize of $250,000 as part of the award, ACM said.

The award recognizes early- and mid-career computer scientists “whose research contributions have fundamental impact and broad implications,” ACM said. The association, which also awards the Turing Award, said it selected Patel as the winner of this year’s prize for the research and work he and colleagues have done around using sensing systems to detect environmental hazards and simplify home energy-monitoring, among other applications.

“Before Patel’s work, most systems for monitoring energy and health required expensive and cumbersome specialized devices, precluding practical widespread adoption,” ACM said in a news release announcing the award. “Patel and his students found highly creative ways to leverage existing infrastructure to make affordable and accurate monitoring a practical reality. Patel quickly turned his team’s research contributions into real-world deployments, founding companies to commercialize their work.”

Patel, who in 2011 was named a MacArthur Fellow in connection with his work on sensor networks, has been involved with several startups spun out of academic research during his time at UW.

One was Zensi, which developed technology to measure the amount of electricity used by home appliances, as well as similar systems to gauge water and gas usage. Belkin International, a Los Angeles-based electronics business, acquired Zensi in 2010 for an undisclosed sum.

Another startup Patel co-founded, in 2012, is SNUPI Technologies; the acronym stands for Sensor Network Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure. The company developed a communications platform able to support numerous environmental sensors, which could detect smoke, carbon monoxide, water leaks, mold, methane, and other hazards. SNUPI, which was backed by the Seattle-based VC firm Madrona Venture Group and other investors, sold its first product, WallyHome, to Sears in 2015, and now operates as a subsidiary of the department store chain, according to Bloomberg.

Patel has also applied his expertise in sensor systems to the digital health sector. In 2016, he co-founded Senosis Health, a startup that developed a series of smartphone apps to measure, diagnose, and manage diseases. Senosis was sold to Nest, a subsidiary of Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL), in 2017, as GeekWire reported at the time.

Patel is currently working on technology that uses smartphone components—cameras, microphones and other sensors—for “physiological sensing and the management of chronic diseases,” ACM said.

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