Dr. Bob Iannucci Joins Carnegie Mellon University as Head of CyLab Mobility Research Center
Dr. Bob Iannucci recently joined Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley (CMUSV) as the new Director of the CyLab Mobility Research Center. Prior to joining CMUSV, he served as Chief Technology Officer of Nokia and was Head of the Nokia Research Center (NRC). Under his leadership, NRC's previously established labs and new lablets delivered fundamental contributions to the worldwide Long Term Evolution for 3G (LTE) standard; created and promulgated what is now the MIPI UniPro interface for high-speed, in-phone interconnectivity; created and commercialized Bluetooth Low Energy - extending wireless connectivity to coin-cell-powered sensors and other devices; and delivered new technology initiatives including TrafficWorks and the Morph Concept. Previously, Dr. Iannucci served as Director of Digital Equipment Corporation's Cambridge Research Laboratory (CRL) and became VP of Research for Compaq. He spent the earliest days of his career at IBM studying and developing highly scalable computing systems.
Dr. Iannucci earned his Ph.D. from MIT in 1988. His research interests include mobile and embedded computing, scalable systems, sensor networks and emergency communications systems.
Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley sat down with Dr. Iannucci to find out more about his background, research and plans as he steps into his new role.
CMUSV: You have enjoyed an extensive career in the software industry, including serving as CTO of Nokia and Head of the Nokia Research Center (NRC). Why did you decide to make the move to academia?
Bob Iannucci: I left Nokia in 2009 and went on to do consulting in mobile video and applications. As I’ve reflected on my career, including how tremendously fun it has been to work with my sons in our family-run company, RAI Laboratory LLC, I’ve realized that a large part of what I enjoy is working in small groups to create new technology. I’ve worked in both large groups and small groups and I’ve always come out enjoying being hands-on rather than simply overseeing operations. In the end, my love is in building things. The move to academia, especially to a small and vibrant community like CMUSV, seemed perfect because I wanted a place where I could work in small groups with bright people.
CMUSV: Why did you feel that Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley was the right fit for you?
BI: I’m originally from Pittsburgh and have always had a high opinion of CMU. I consider CMU to be the strongest university in the country in the building of large systems. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many members of the faculty, working with many on research projects while I was in the software industry. With CMUSV, the location in Silicon Valley is perfect not only for where my family is now but also because it is a place characterized by great ideas and creativity with many opportunities for industry-academia collaborations.
CMUSV: You are currently working on courses for the new embedded computing track to the Software Engineering Program. Why do you think this addition is important to the existing curriculum?
BI: If we look at mobile computing and its history, we started with a brick-like device whose only purpose was to make calls, none of the texting or application use that we now enjoy. Mobile phones started life as embedded computers but success, connectedness and declining costs drove an evolution to phones as fully-fledged computers. This embedded-to-general purpose evolution is a theme we want to more fully develop in our teaching and research, focusing on the “internet of things.” To me, this is one part small-device software, one part small-device hardware and one part cloud computing.
CMUSV: You are the new Director of the CyLab Mobility Research Center. How do you see the center moving forward under your leadership?
BI: I think there are important things to be faced from a research perspective. Mobile phones are rapidly replacing PCs, but they have significant inherent differences. For example, typing on a phone is difficult and there is not currently a good way to “hover” as there is with a mouse. Yet, there is this tantalizing prospect of using the camera as a primary input device – if only we can make the associated image processing energy efficient. Giving mobile devices the ability to recognize people and objects in real time would significantly change the way we think about using these mobile devices as information tools, not unlike what real-time speech recognition is doing for mobile devices. However, to use a camera as an input device, we need supercomputing-class performance at milliwatt power levels. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible with other sensors that are in – or should be in – phones.
We’re hoping to combine project orientation, which is a hallmark of CMU, with an interesting set of problems and great collaborators – in the Valley and elsewhere. A great research center is a lot like a great party. You need to know who to invite and what you’re going to do there that will ensure the best time for everyone. No one element makes it great but it is all the elements together. I think the CyLab Mobility Research Center is really well positioned to have an impact and have some fun in the process.
CMUSV: What is one of your current research projects?
BI: I’m very interested in disaster management. It is fairly well known by now that during the 9/11 response, police, fire and other agencies found themselves with the need to intercommunicate, but their communication systems just didn’t do that. Afterwards, there was a big push to rethink these systems and hopefully things are moving in the right direction. I think, though, that there’s another problem that is just as important but is often ignored: communication problems within and between neighborhoods during a disaster.
So, I’ve been working on an idea called the Silicon Valley Resilient Network. The concept is: how could we provide local Internet service to people in a “tent city” community using readily-available technology and provide vital smartphone-to-smartphone communications in a disaster? And if we can restore just enough network service with off-the-shelf components, can we layer social networking tools on top of it to facilitate real-time sharing of information that will assist in recovery efforts? I call it a “survivable social network,” a kind of Facebook-in-a-box, with which users in the community are able to share crucial information and resources and help solve each other’s problems. I’d like to create such a system and try it out in a local emergency preparedness exercise. If it proves valuable, perhaps we could release it for further evolution as open source software.
CMUSV: Is there anything you learned from your own experience as a graduate student that you want to bring to your students here at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley?
BI: I value how my advisor at MIT, Professor Arvind, ran our graduate group because he made us feel like a family. Our group was very team-oriented and collaborative and we all felt like we were more than just individual students conducting individual research. I find that spirit of collaboration important in academia and I hope to bring a little bit of Arvind to my research group at CMUSV.