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The awardee

“I love to design systems with real-world impact”


Ambuj Varshney, who started building things during his school days in India, has been awarded the 2019 ABB Research Award in Honor of Hubertus von Grünberg for his groundbreaking work on battery-free communication systems that enable a sustainable Industrial Internet of Things.

Ambuj Varshney, a 33-year old researcher in Sweden, will not forget this day for a long time. The first piece of good news was the acceptance of his research works at ACM MobiCom 2019, the highest ranking conference in the area of mobile computing and wireless networking.

But the high point of the day came a little later in the form of an email from Switzerland. Bazmi Husain, CTO of global technology leader ABB, personally conveyed what the young scientist could hardly believe: he had been chosen as the second recipient of the ABB Research Award in Honor of Hubertus von Grünberg.

“I was pleasantly surprised and have to admit, it was a bit difficult to sleep that night because I was so excited,” Varshney said. “This award is a big honor for any young scientist. To me, this is a validation of many years of hard work which like any journey in life is built on many failures and difficult times.”
Varshney, a researcher at Uppsala University, Sweden, received the renowned ABB Research Award, which honors the achievements of former ABB chairman Hubertus von Grünberg and is one of the most highly endowed research prizes by a corporation, for his doctoral thesis “Enabling Sustainable Networked Embedded Systems (NES)” and research proposal “Towards Future Factories: Enabling Sustainable Sensing”.

The area of NES has been the main interest of the Indian-born Swedish citizen for a long time. Among experts it is considered as one of the most challenging and important technology areas of the future. NES enables the Internet of Things (IoT) and has seen rapid growth during the past few years. “I was introduced to the area of NES during my undergraduate studies almost a decade back and I immediately fell in love with it”, Varshney says. “For me this field was at an intersection of computer science and electronics. I found this area fascinating as we could design systems with a real-world impact.”

Over the past several years, his focus has been around designing sensing and communication systems that can operate at extremely low power consumption enabling battery-free operation of these devices. In terms of sustainability, such an upgrowth would be a major breakthrough because it would eliminate the need to refill and dispose of millions and maybe soon billions of batteries in widespread networks. One of the major projects that constitutes Varshney’s dissertation, an ultra-low power and long-range communication system (LoRea) might be a key technology to enable this vision. Varshney presented LoRea at the ACM Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys 2017), and demonstrated that the system has the ability to transmit as far as a few kilometers while consuming just tens of microwatts of power in the transmitting device.

Varshney, who loves reading biographies (right now: “Hit Refresh” from Microsoft CEO - Satya Nadella), listening to music, traveling and has recently started to learn horse riding, studied and worked in different parts of India. He comes from a family of engineers with his father being a mechanical engineer and his sister a software engineer. It was his father, working for some of the leading steel companies in India, who brought him into contact with real-world challenges of large factories. “This greatly influenced my motivation towards autonomous industries,” he remembers.

Working on immediately implementable solutions has fascinated him since he was a child. “I like doing projects which are challenging, require a lot of experimentation, and building things,” he says. The project that he worked on during his undergraduate days was just one example: to allow the observation of tigers without disturbing them in their natural habitat, Varshney designed a wireless image sensing node for monitoring their movements. This sensor node could take images of tigers under dark through infrared flash and wirelessly transmit them.

Varshney received valuable scientific support after his move to Sweden, after the initial guidance he had got from Prabhat Ranjan, a leading scientist in India. Working on his dissertation at Uppsala University, he was advised by Thiemo Voigt as the main supervisor at the Department of Information Technology, where he earned his doctorate in Computer Science in May 2018.

Now Varshney wants to use the US $ 300,000 grant - dedicated to ongoing research over the next three years - to continue innovating in the area of sustainable NES. “My expectations from this award is that it enables me to leverage more than a century of experience of ABB in developing innovative technologies,” Varshney says. 

Paving the way for a large scale deployment of battery-free NES will make the Internet of Things more sustainable, and also impact other fields. "Eliminating batteries will support NES in a sustainable manner for long periods without negatively impacting their environment”, Varshney explained. “This will allow us collecting an unimaginable amount of valuable data in industries of all kinds as a solid base for artificial intelligence and autonomous industries.”