Computer science and environmentalism might well appear to be an unlikely combination, but it’s something that Fitzwilliam College Fellow and Robert Sansom Professor of Computer Science Srinivasan Keshav believes goes hand in hand.
Keshav has gained an outstanding international reputation for his groundbreaking work in two distinct fields: computer networking and energy systems. He has made innovative contributions to network congestion control and simulation, wireless networking and the application of computer networking principles to energy systems in the emerging area of energy informatics.
Before moving to Cambridge in 2019 he worked at the Cheriton School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Keshav says: “My current research uses sensing, communication and control to increase the carbon efficiency of energy systems. A recent focus of mine has been on blockchain technologies, so that homeowners can sell their green electricity to their neighbours.
“I became interested in climate change and explored how I could use my work to help mitigate it. I asked myself the question ‘Can we use computer sensors to reduce energy consumption in the world?’ We can try to reduce the amount of flights we take to cut down our carbon footprint but overall that equates to around 2% of global emissions. The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint – that is mostly down to natural gas heating and cooling systems.”
Keshav took a sabbatical in 2009 from the University of Waterloo and retrained so that he could use his computer science expertise to make energy production and energy use more efficient.
He says: “I taught myself about heating and ventilation systems to see if we could use an Internet of Things approach to reduce heat, light and cost. If no one is in a room we shouldn’t need to heat or light it, so if we can sense that we can then control the heating or lighting unit.
“In my experience facilities managers have so many problems to solve every day, and they tend to be more interested in the comfort of people rather than trying to save energy. So we looked to use comfort in order to reduce the consumption of energy.”
This switch in approach has led to the development of a new type of fan, which also incorporates a heater and a small computer inside of it that senses comfort levels, and becomes personalised. Around 70 smart fans have been deployed for a field trial that recorded 400,000 hours of usage.
Keshav is also looking into how to improve the technology behind video conferencing to make the experience even better than a face-to-face meeting.
He explains: “Applications like FaceTime, Skype and Zoom are fine for one-on-one video calls but when you try to use them for a large group setting they don’t enable you to get a good feel of the conversation or a presentation.
“I am exploring how to make video conferencing more spatially aware – for example curved ‘gamer’ screens enable a 120 degree field of view. I’ve put together a research group here in Cambridge to look at VR and audio solutions to really enhance the teleconferencing experience.”
These are just a handful of examples of his work, which also spans diverse topics ranging from reducing building energy, to clean transportation, to modelling lithium-ion batteries (see http://iss4e.ca for more information).
Picture credit: Joe Petrik