UW Researcher Spotlight: Professor Josh Smith

Written by CoMotion Staff / September 3, 2020

Curious about a UW researcher?

Welcome to our blog series, “UW Researcher Spotlight.” These posts highlight University of Washington researchers who, as principal investigator—or “PI”—lead their teams on the path from idea to impact with the support of CoMotion. The resulting innovations have been licensed to industry, spun out as a startup, or licensed direct to the user from within the UW.

Stay tuned for profiles about UW researchers from computer science & engineering, life sciences, emerging tech, social sciences and more.

Meet Josh Smith

Milton and Delia Zeutschel Professor, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering; Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

Where: UW Electrical & Computer Engineering, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering

Team:

Jeeva Wireless, Co-founded with Paul G. Allen School Associate Prof. Shyam Gollakota, ECE PhD / CSE Postdoc Vamsi Talla (now CTO Jeeva), ECE PhD Aaron Parks (now VP Product, Jeeva), ECE MS Bryce Kellogg (now Director, Engineering, Bryce Kellogg). Scott Bright, CEO

Wibotic Inc: Co-founded with ECE PhD Benjamin Waters (now CEO, Wibotic)

Proprio: Co-founded with Sam Browd, MD, PhD (Professor of Neurological Surgery, Director of Seattle Children’s Hydrocephalus Program), James Youngquist (CSE PhD student, now Head of R&D, Proprio), Ken Denman (Co-Founder & Chairman of the Board, Proprio, Board member, UW Foundation), and Gabriel Jones (CEO, Proprio, UW Foster MBA grad)

When did you file your first ROI with CoMotion?
August 24, 2011

Tell us about your innovation – what technologies have you licensed or spun out?
Jeeva Wireless:  Uses existing radio frequency signals to transmit data without a battery or power grid connection–known as backscatter technologies–for low- or no-battery wireless communication.

Wibotic Inc: Autonomous wireless powering for robots and drone fleets

Proprio: Enhanced visualization technologies and systems for medical use.

What problem does your innovation solve?
Jeeva Wireless’s solves the key limitation of distributed sensors and devices in the Internet of Things (IoT): power. Generally, these IoT systems require battery power, which can be heavy and require replacement periodically.  This can be a challenge when you have a large number of systems or they are remotely placed.  With Jeeva’s technology, a central wireless hub (using standard WiFi frequencies) can power these IoT systems without use of a battery.

Autonomous robot and drone fleets can be challenging to power, with wired connections being very difficult to make without a human operator’s intervention. Wibotic provides location and wireless powering solutions for these autonomous fleets, enabling them to recharge automatically without need for a human operator. Wibotic technology can also optimize recharging to maximize a fleet’s operations.

Proprio’s imaging system is designed to enhance human capability and performance in surgery. It provides a new way for surgeons to see which combines live 3D video of the anatomy with dynamically registered medical images.

What impact are you having?
With WiBotic’s recent FCC approval (see more under WHAT’S THE LATEST below), the entire automation industry can take advantage of the wireless power revolution.  Jeeva Wireless is in the late stages of rolling out its technology, while Proprio’s technology fuses human and computer vision for augmented perception and cognition. It aims to provide surgeons with greater insight, pinpoint accuracy and better outcomes.

What funding have you received?  
Proprio has raised $30M, Wibotic $8M, and Jeeva $8M

What’s the latest?  
Wibotic has recently achieved FCC approval for wireless systems to charge robots, drones and more. This is important because, previously, only low power cell phone and small electronics chargers or very high power electric vehicle chargers were approved for widespread use. Learn more in this article in GeekWire.

Shyam Gollakota, Co-founder & CTO Jeeva Wireless

Aaron Parks, VP Product, Jeeva Wireless

Bryce Kellogg, Director, Engineering, Jeeva Wireless

ScottBright, CEO, Jeeva Wireless

Benjamin Waters, CEO, Wibotic

Sam Browd, Co-founder, Proprio

James Youngquist, Head of R&D, Proprio

Ken Denman, Co-Founder & Chairman of the Board, Proprio

Gabriel Jones, CEO, Proprio

Commercialization advice?
The most important thing is the team. You should have great colleagues and students that excite you about working closely with. Market conditions may change, what’s most important about your technology may change, but if you have great team members, you’ll be able to work together to adapt to whatever comes your way.

What CoMotion services and resources have you used and how did they help?
It is a pleasure working with the innovation managers and patent agents in CoMotion to help manage the IP portfolios. If your startup licenses the technology from UW, the startup will be consulted with about lots of decisions related to the prosecution of the patents. I have also received several CoMotion Innovation Gap Fund grants over the years which helped incubate the technologies that were commercialized.

What do you like most about working with CoMotion?
I enjoy collaborating with the CoMotion team to create strong IP portfolios as efficiently as possible.

Tell us a fun anecdote about your journey on the path to commercialization:
Wibotic and my UW lab are jointly pursing funding opportunities that neither of us could go after individually. We recently applied for a grant from NASA to develop technology to do wireless charging on the moon to allow lunar rovers to recharge at bigger stationary landers. It’s out of this world!

Who is your favorite scientist or researcher in your field of research/industry?
A lot of people who work in wireless power like Tesla. My students have quite a few Tesla pictures in the lab. But I still like Einstein the best. And remember, he was working as a patent examiner when he did some of his best work!

Background and Bio:
Josh’s bio: https://sensor.cs.washington.edu/jrs.html

Joshua R. Smith is the Milton and Delia Zeutschel Professor, jointly appointed in the Allen School of Computer Science, and in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Washington, where he leads Sensor Systems Laboratory. His research focuses on inventing new sensor systems, devising new ways to power and communicate with them, and developing algorithms for using them. This research has applications in the domains of ubiquitous computing, robotics, medical devices and human-computer interaction (HCI). His group develops novel sensors for robotic manipulation, resonant wireless power transfer, and far-field wirelessly powered sensing platforms.  Professor Smith’s research aims to improve the connection of information systems to the physical world. The research has application in areas such as ubiquitous computing, robotics, wireless power, and medical devices. One theme explored in his research is alternative sensing systems not modeled on human perceptual systems.

Education
A graduate of Williams College, Dr. Smith completed his M.A. in Natural Sciences (Physics and Theoretical Physics) at the University of Cambridge and received his M.S. and Ph.D in Electric Field Imaging from MIT.

CONNECT:

UW Sensor Systems Lab:
https://sensor.cs.washington.edu/

Jeeva
https://www.jeevawireless.com/

Wibotic
https://www.wibotic.com/

Proprio
https://www.propriovision.com/

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About UW CoMotion: CoMotion at the UW is the collaborative innovation hub dedicated to expanding the economic and societal impact of the UW community. By developing and connecting to local and global innovation ecosystems, CoMotion helps innovators achieve the greatest impact from their ideas and discoveries.