Pranav Mistry

Inventor and Computer Scientist, Samsung Electronics

San Jose, CA

Born in Palanpur (Gujarat), Pranav Mistry is one of the most revolutionary innovators of the 21st century. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from the Nirma Institute of Technology (Ahmedabad), before moving to Mumbai to complete a master’s degree from Indian Institute of Technology, specializing in design. In 2003, Mistry traveled to the United States to continue devouring knowledge and found himself at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from where he holds a masters of media arts and sciences degree and completed his PhD at Media Lab in 2012.

As a PhD student in the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT’s Media Lab, in collaboration with the lab director Pattie Maes, Mistry created some of the most interactive and state-of-the-art technology the world had ever witnessed – SixthSense. Contrary to modern innovations we see today, SixthSense was not based on a shift from physical to digital, rather an integration of the two mediums. Mistry was quick to address the gulf that he foresaw new technologies creating. SixthSense was an intelligent interface that gave consumers the ability of superimposing digital information on physical objects – an interactive map than could be projected on a wall for easier access, an image of President Obama in a newspaper suddenly becoming a video, a physical boarding pass transmitting updates in real time by simply glancing at it. Its utility doesn’t end here. Using the most mundane gestures you could do fascinating stuff; by aligning your fingers and thumbs to make a picture frame you could snap a photograph, hold up a book and it would project ratings and reviews; want to check your e-mail? Simply draw a ‘@’ on a surface anywhere and voila! Mistry’s vision and mission was simple – “to paint the physical world with digital information”. He successfully removed the confine that we hold in our hands in the form of smart phones and tablets and bridged this ever-growing technological divide by enabling users to remain attached to physical objects by making them more interactive. Having started with various prototypes, the final product was a simple wearable device that used color markers (to make gestures/commands) and a camera (to track these gestures). To add to all the excitement, unlike most augmented reality systems, Mistry’s consisted of inexpensive, off-the-shelf hardware. As a result, the final product costed a little under $350 (not including the phone). To top it all off, Mistry made this open-source, and you can even find instructions on how to create a device of your own on his website.

Labelling Mistry a ‘visionary’ is more than an understatement. All the success and hysteria surrounding SixthSense did not impede him. He masterminded several other innovative projects. TeleTouch gives you control from afar. Simply look through your phone camera at an object and take control. Whether it be interacting with an appliance or turning the lights on or off. SPARSH enables transfer of digital media from one electronic device to another, with the user serving as the exchange medium. Although the transfer happens thanks to cloud technology, it is the ‘touch’ that facilitates it. Mouseless is an invisible mouse that gives you control of the cursor. Simply act as if you’re holding onto a mouse and perform the same gestures and the functionality follows. While designers concentrate on making these devices more ergonomic, Mistry decided to go a different route altogether! thirdEye enables viewers to see distinct media on a single display screen. Without using split-screen, thirdEye serves to a multiplicity of viewers, who seek diverse sets of information. SunFlower, which was prompted by Mistry’s love for nature, was a project based on creating artificial sunflowers, which would track the sun to receive the most amount of sunlight through efficient angles. Later, this concept became widely used in solar panels to maximize cell-charging. Seriously, Mistry’s website is like having a window into the future. The excellence of ideas combined with his simplicity in execution sets him apart in a world where technology is changing every day.

Following his stint at MIT in 2012, major industry players started queuing up for the humble genius from Gujarat. It perhaps came as a surprise when Mistry decided to head Samsung’s Think Tank Team (TTT). Established in May 2012, the TTT is an expert group of interdisciplinary researchers, scientists, designers and engineers, focused on materializing innovative new ideas and re-imagining existing products. It is responsible for creating new product categories and revolutionizing experiences that Samsung brings to the market. The self-proclaimed “disruptive” entity’s work is not simply limited to products that are ready for mass-production, but also to develop concepts that will take several years to come to realization. One of their first products was Samsung’s introduction to the wearable tech-market, ‘Galaxy Gear’. A smartwatch essentially, it acts like a companion to a Samsung smartphone. It provides hands-off and quick to relevant information. Although it was not commercially successful, technologically, it remains a solid indicator of the kind of innovation and creativity that is pursued at the TTT.

Under Mistry’s leadership, the TTT is working toward some incredible ‘toys’. In fall of 2015, Samsung unveiled their fourth installment of the smartwatch – the Samsung Gear S2. The S2 was a huge hit, facilitating vast amounts of customization, sporting different modes and enhancing the overall utility of the product. The TTT also developed Samsung Flow. Samsung’s response to Apple’s instant cloud integration that allows users to pick up on one device where they left off on another. Samsung Flow goes a step further and integrates Windows PCs to all Android devices. Through a simple tap on the ‘share’ icon, you can move windows between devices and manage an inclusive agenda of all pending tasks. The end game here is to integrate all Samsung devices (phones, tablets, computers, televisions, refrigerators and other appliances) to give consumers all-access through the device that’s closest to them. Furthermore, Samsung recently unveiled the first ‘true 3D omniview camera’ – Project Beyond. With 17 cameras tactically arranged, ‘Beyond’ captures entire surroundings to render an impressively immersive experience. It is a 360-degree camera like no other. Its stereoscopic nature is all-encompassing and produces content of outstanding quality.

It is no surprise Mistry is already one of the most decorated innovators in the world. In 2013, he was the recipient of the ‘Young Global Leader award’ from the World Economic Forum. His alma matter, IIT Bombay, awarded him the ‘Young Alumnus Award’ in 2012. The Netexplorateurs Grand Prix (France) named him the ‘Netexplorateur of the Year’ in 2010. Forbes, in 2009, nominated him as one of their ‘India’s Person of the Year’. Additionally, several tech magazines have labelled him as their respective ‘Innovator of the Year’ (Digit Magazine, MIT Technology Review, CREATIVITY 50), while others have given similar awards to his inventions (Popular Science). Mistry of course appeared on his renowned TED talks, holds 10 patents and has over 25 highly-cited publications.

But perhaps most unexpectedly, Mistry would not even think twice about waving goodbye to his personal ‘Dexter’s lab’. He has long voiced his admiration for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two first met in 2011, when Modi invited Mistry to address his Cabinet, district collectors and a group of school children. Mistry confesses his own lack of ‘people-skills’ and sees himself as more of an advisor. “This challenge”, as he perceives it, is indubitably reminiscent of the relationship former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi shared with the telecom mogul Sam Pitroda. With Modi already engaging with several technological giants (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.), Mistry’s presence besides him could potentially usher in a new chapter in India’s standing in global politics – a textbook case of experience and wisdom merging with a fresh lungful of pioneering ideas and zest.

 

References

KVN, Rohit. “India-Born Pranav Mistry Named Samsung Electronics Vice-President; Key Facts of New Company Chief.” International Business Times, India Edition. International Business Times, India Edition, 08 Dec. 2014. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

Review, MIT Technology. “Innovator Under 35: Pranav Mistry, 28.” MIT Technology Review. N.p., 2009. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

“Pranav Mistry.” Pranav Mistry. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

Samsung, Think Tank Team -. “Think Tank Team – Samsung Research America.” Think Tank Team – Samsung Research America. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

Mistry, Pranav. “Pranav Mistry.” Speaker | TED.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

“Google Code Archive – Long-term Storage for Google Code Project Hosting.” Google. Google, 25 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Shah, Agam. “Samsung’s Flow Bridges the Gap between Android and Windows Devices.”Computerworld. IDG News Service, 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

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