Yen-Kuang Chen: Improving Lives

Crossing disciplines to advance the Internet of Things

13 March 2014

IEEE Fellow Yen-Kuang “Y.K.” Chen says he got into engineering to help make people’s lives a little easier. But it wasn’t until he turned his attention to the Internet of Things (IoT) three years ago that his involvement in academia, industry, and volunteering coalesced to expedite his goals.

In 1998 Chen joined Intel Labs, in Santa Clara, Calif., as a researcher in the division for exploratory research in new methods of production. There he pushed the boundaries of computer processing efficiency for multimedia use. Today, his attention is on the IoT—a rising discipline that enables cloud-based data collection, analysis, and communication among myriad devices.

Chen Photo: Intel

“It’s an emerging arena that requires a lot of collaboration across disciplines,” he says. “In the future, devices around us are going to collect data to help us do things better. But we need to understand what the data means first and turn that into actionable information.”

GROWING INVOLVEMENT

Chen has served since 2011 as the associate director of the Intel-National Taiwan University Connected Context Computing Center, in Taipei—a joint venture of Intel, Taiwan’s National Science Council, and NTU. The center aims to identify and address technological barriers to the IoT.

Today, Chen is also a member of the IEEE Internet of Things Organizing Committee and its Internet of Things Working Group. The group is launching a new publication, IEEE Internet of Things Journal, and organized the first IEEE World Forum on Internet of Things, being held this month in Seoul, South Korea. In 2012 he was a keynote speaker at the IEEE International Conference on Internet of Things, in Besançon, France, organized by the IEEE Computer Society.

Chen uses volunteerism to connect industrial engineers and academic researchers for IoT solutions. “IEEE is a good place for industry and academia to collaborate,” he says. “To fulfill a need in this emerging area, academics have to know what problems the industry faces, and the industry has to know what state-of-the-art technologies exist.

“The IoT is an area that not only can help humankind but can also make money,” he adds. “Companies are looking at the multitrillion-dollar IoT market, where technology is being developed with the purpose of helping people. It’s an area where creative innovation and business both win.”

MULTIPLE DISCIPLINES

Chen earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from NTU in 1992, then did a two-year mandatory stint in the military before getting his master’s degree and then his Ph.D. in EE in 1998 from Princeton, where he focused his dissertation on video compression.

Chen joined Intel that same year and got his first taste of working across disciplines on cutting-edge computing. In his initial research there, he looked at how algorithms, multicore architecture, multimedia applications, and software could work together. “Until that time, computer architecture was separate from the application,” he says.

He shifted his research in 2010 at both Intel and NTU to troubleshooting IoT obstacles.“A barrier can come from technologies that haven’t matured yet,” he says. “We’re working on how devices can sense the environment efficiently, how they can communicate with each other more effectively, and how the devices and cloud computing can collaborate on analyzing the context of the data and make sense of it all.”

Chen holds more than 50 current and pending patents. He has published more than 85 articles and garnered a dozen awards and professional recognitions, including a Best Paper Award from the International Conference on Very Large Data Bases and a Best Associate Editor Award for his work with IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems for Video Technology.

BALANCING ACT

Nowadays, Chen’s life involves an ongoing dance with academia, business, and volunteering. He splits his time between Taipei and Santa Clara, making about five trips a year for his work with the Connected Context Computing Center.

With more than 100 people helping to organize the IEEE IoT conference and dozens involved in the IEEE journal, Chen needed only two hours a week to handle e-mail and phone calls, but he is expecting to make a larger time commitment closer to the conference date.

“The advice I have for balancing a career and volunteer work is to find a project or initiative that aligns with both,” Chen says. “I’m lucky that my interests, volunteering, and work all unite in a common goal.

“My involvement with IEEE not only helps the organization and its members, but it also helps my company and my work.”

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