Gunasekar Krishnamoorthy at a glance

Pioneering a Tsunami early-warning device

Gunasekar Krishnamoorthy has harnessed the power of digital technology to develop a device that provides life-saving tidal alerts to people of coastal areas.

In 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami swept everything in its path, causing unspeakable misery and taking 250,000 lives. I witnessed its after-effects first hand as part of a student group providing relief efforts at Nagapattinam coast, one of the worst affected regions of India.

Visiting as a United Nations special envoy, the former US President Bill Clinton addressed relief workers and survivors at that time. Mr. Clinton mentioned that this heavy human loss could have been avoided if there had been better warning systems in place to reach the people on the ground.

Highlighting this delay, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Dr. Selvi J.Jayalalithaa added that a Tsunami warning alert was sent by Japan to India via New Delhi which unfortunately, did not reach the people in time. I pondered what could be done to warn people in the future.

In the meantime, I joined TCS in 2007 and worked in different areas, including as an Oracle developer, quality assurance lead and in telecom research – spending a few years in the UK as well in accordance with project requirements.

“I believe that my work should be for the benefit of people in coastal areas; it’s not something to be commercialized by businesses for profit.”

But my mind was always in research mode, searching for technology solutions to real-life challenges. I published my first research paper in VoIP and it won a Best Paper award in 2007. This research was inspired by Shanky Vishwanathan, the Telecom Head of TCS North America at that time, who was kind enough to find me and speak to me during a town hall session in Chennai – boosting my enthusiasm and inspiring me to go further.

Since then, I have presented several research papers including at the global conference TACTICS 2011, where the research was shortlisted for a patent to be filed by TCS IPR cell.

The question of an efficient warning system for coastal areas lingered in my mind. I thought of a digital device like a mobile phone to transmit warning information to cover the last mile or reach the people in vulnerable areas.

Meanwhile, The Indian Government had opened a regional warning center – the Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) – in Hyderabad. With the help of customized software installed at INCOIS, I worked out that warnings could be transmitted to this digital device – alerting the user in the case of imminent danger.

I presented this solution at an international conference. I was asked many questions by experts such as: what if people were without a mobile phone or didn’t have it within reach? What about children without mobile phones or fishermen already at sea?

Could a mobile device really be made available to the poorest and most vulnerable?

Analyzing each of these scenarios, I fine-tuned my solution to that of a wearable digital device like a wrist watch or ring. This could alert those driving towards the beach area and divert traffic towards safer zones. Based on inputs from international scientists, I enhanced the digital device to include further capabilities. For example, these devices could be integrated into fishing boats so that they would be automatically restrained if they accidentally swerved out of territorial waters.

In September last year, I demonstrated this device and its enhanced functionalities at the international conference organized jointly by Tsunami Society International, Honolulu, USA and European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) in Milan, Italy. Accordingly, the innovation is now documented in the center’s crisis response protocol for Tsunami warnings.

Based on this research, I won the “Distinguished Scientist Award” from Pentagram Research Center Pvt Ltd in Hyderabad. I was also invited to the secretariat by government officials – including the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, the Mayor of Chennai and the Minister of IT – to discuss strategies on how to take this device to the people.

Serving the nation is in my DNA

In March 2017, I delivered a keynote address on latest trends in Digital and IoT at the International Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics held in Hyderabad. During this time, I was awarded the “Distinguished Corporate Researcher” title.

After my presentation at the JRC in Milan, I was invited by a US company to continue work on this project in their lab. I refused because I believe that my work should be for the benefit of people in coastal areas, not something to be commercialized by businesses for profit.

Serving the nation is in my DNA as my grandfather served in the Indian army for 29 years and is a decorated World War II veteran. My father was also part of the defence establishment for a long while.

Currently, efforts are ongoing to patent the Tsunami alert device and distribute it with the help of the government. I’m also working towards making it more global by adding automatic switching of languages through Natural Language Processing (NLP) and tailoring it for illiterate or differently abled people.

Once this digital device is patented and implemented, my goal is to achieve a PhD to add to my engineering and management qualifications.

A superstar’s message to us all:

Engineers should hone their analytical capabilities and critical thinking and search for technology solutions to real-life problems. This is what I impress upon students whenever I am called to deliver lectures or mentor trainees. Whatever we learn, we should be able to apply to real-life situations for the benefit of our company, our nation and our fellow human beings.

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