Nagasrikanth Kallakuri | Research Engineer, Department of Network Robots,Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories,Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International
Born in India. Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh). Main focus areas in his research are autonomous navigation of robots, audio map creation and sensor fusion. Currently pursuing a comprehensive research on fusing visual and auditory sensory data for “human-like cognition” in robots.
My current research mainly focuses on ambient intelligence and environmental cognition. The goal is to develop technologies that empower the robot with capabilities like vision, audition using cameras, Kinects, microphones, laser scanners etc. The idea is not only to equip the robot with these sensing capabilities, but also to teach the robot about how to interpret this sensory data to understand the surroundings. This kind of technology gives an idea of all possible actions for the robot depending on its surrounding environment. If some morning, I suddenly wake up in this room, as soon as I wake up my brain develops an idea of what kind of place I am in, like this looks like a meeting room with table and chairs, there is sunlight coming into the room, so it is daytime, there are some people in formal wear meaning that they are in some official discussion etc.
This is so easy for us, humans. But making a robot attain similar understanding is an unsolved challenge in the robotics and artificial intelligence community. At this point of time, my current focus is on audio based cognition and also sensor fusion. We are creating indoor audio maps of buildings and integrating them in the geometric map of the corresponding environment, so that when the robot navigates through the environment it has an idea of where fixed sound sources like television, air-conditioner etc are present. The first point in my to-do list is to make robots attain ‘human-like’ understanding of the environment.
Sometime back, while working on a course assignment at Carnegie Mellon, I came across the amazing research in Prof. Ishiguro’s lab at ATR. Later, when I was about to complete my Masters, I have seen an opening in his lab. By the time I applied for that opening, the position was filled and my application was forwarded to the Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratory at ATR. And here I am.
There is one more reason to especially choose Japan to start my career. Today, in many countries, robotic technologies are mainly applied in defense industry. Japan is one place in the world, where robotics is purely for empowering the society in day-to-day life. I think that is what technology is meant for. To me, technology is the solution for ‘all’ the world’s problems. The problem can be to give better lives for the physically challenged or to eradicate poverty or to counter global warming or anything.
In research, its all about knowledge ‘creation and addition’ to the immense repository of human knowledge base. As researchers, we are expected to add upon the research of our ancestors. That’s the beauty in the research culture, if everyone starts with re-inventing the wheel, the society will never step forward. Now I am very happy to see the open source revolution rapidly changing the way we see technology. For example, I think that nothing was made now if Newton is not, and when discovery of Newton could not be used. Don’t you think so?
I think in 10 to 15 years from now, I definitely will be in technological research and specifically, I want to start up a technology think-tank back in India, where I was born. As I told you before, there are many problems in the world and we need institutions like this where viable and practical solutions are modeled to answer the real-world problems. I am quite confident that with technology you can solve any problem – corruption, poverty and may be even an issue like communal riots where many innocent people lose their lives. I may not say exactly how we can counter these problems with technology, but I can surely say that it is going to happen. Do you think Utopian? Not really. In Indian mythology, we have great sages and Gods who show in their palm, something that is far away in another part of the world. If you think in that sense, there are millions of Gods in the world today who can just make a Skype call and show things that are beyond seas. If you look at the millennia of the history of mankind if a person was born blind, he died blind. If a person lost his hand, there after he always lived the life of a handicapped. But today, we are doing things that were considered to be ‘acts of God’. How beautiful is the thought of showing the face of mother to child that has lived in the world of darkness until now! We can give artificial limbs to people who lost their hands or legs in accidents. If you go even further, I can just look at the door to open it, I can clap and the light turns on. Today all these are possible not only to God but also to YOU.