University of Washington professor Shwetak Patel, best known for his work on developing sensor networks that can be used to monitor power use in buildings, has been named a MacArthur Fellow—the award commonly known as the “genius grant,” which comes with a $500,000 cash prize that recipients can use however they want.
Patel, 29, is well-known around the Pacific Northwest innovation community as a researcher, teacher, and entrepreneur—last year, his company Zensi was purchased by Belkin for undisclosed terms. Now, a lot more folks are going to learn about his work.
There’s a bit of theater involved in the MacArthur Fellow awards. Winners are nominated without their knowledge by someone who is asked to serve as one of the award’s rotating board of nominators. If all goes as planned, winners don’t know they’re even up for consideration until someone from the foundation calls to deliver the news. (Patel was nominated by Henry Levy, chairman of the UW’s computer science and engineering department.) The money is paid out quarterly over five years.
In July, Patel was also named a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow, after being nominated by the university. That honor noted that Patel’s sensor research was being used not just for energy efficiency, but also in “elder care, home safety, and the creation of new approaches for natural user interfaces.”