Skip to main content

Talk: Computational Infrastructure Materials for the Networked & Interactive Built Environment

Sai Swaminathan: Ph.D. Candidate at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, School of Computer Science of Carnegie Mellon University

Event Details

Thursday, March 3, 2022
4-5 p.m.


Abstract: From roads to roofs, homes to high-rises, my inspiration is the promise of building cyber-physical infrastructure for human interaction and enabling smart city applications. Unfortunately, there are several challenges in achieving this vision due to the end of Moore's law, Dennard scaling, and our limited views on how computing systems are manufactured. To date, device manufacturing has focused primarily on miniaturization—packing the most functionality into the smallest form factor—despite our physical infrastructure being much larger in scale. We need to think creatively, design devices in new form factors (made in structural forms like walls, tables, facades, etc.) and materials of various kinds (those with extreme mechanical strength) that make up our built environments. There remain several challenges at the nexus of device power, form factor, and scale for designing our cyber-physical infrastructure. 

This talk will introduce "computational infrastructure materials" that enable us to build energy-efficient sensing, actuation, and communication in the networked physical infrastructure (e.g., buildings, sidewalks) forms. Specifically, I will talk about how to enable our infrastructure materials (e.g., concrete, wood, composites) to do computation:  (1) as they bear large amounts of forces (~4000 lbs) (2) enable battery-free sensing and activity recognition in long distances (~70km), (3) actuate large-structures in response to user interaction and (4) enable battery-free wireless communication. Taken together, these capabilities in infrastructure materials enable a range of applications in the built environment, such as digital buildings, accessibility, and ultimately towards creating sustainable and resilient cyber-physical infrastructure for human interaction. I will conclude by discussing open problems and challenges for this emerging research area.

Bio: Sai Swaminathan is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute in the School of Computer Science of Carnegie Mellon University. He is advised by Scott Hudson in the DevLab. He works at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction, Ubiquitous Computing, and Computational Materials. He has published award-winning work at top-tier HCI venues, including ACM CHI, IMWUT (UbiComp), UIST, and CSCW. His work has also been featured in news outlets such as the New Scientist, Makezine, and HacksterIO. He has worked at numerous research institutions such as the Manufacturing Science group at Oakridge National Lab (ORNL), Microsoft Research, INRIA, and Xerox Research. You can find out more about him at