India-born innovator and scientist Ramesh Raskar has been awarded a $500,000 prize, one of the world’s largest single cash awards that recognizes invention.
The annual Lemelson-MIT prize, administered by the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, honors U.S. inventors who are mid-career and trying to improve the world through science and technology.
Mr. Raskar is an associate professor at MIT’s Media Lab. He is known for his trailblazing work which includes the co-invention of an ultra-fast imaging camera that can see around corners, low-cost eye-care solutions and a camera that enables users to read the first few pages of a book without opening the cover.
“We are thrilled to honor Ramesh Raskar, whose breakthrough research is impacting how we see the world,” said Dorothy Lemelson, chair of the Lemelson Foundation, which funds the prize, in an MIT news release Tuesday.
Mr. Raskar hails from the Hindu pilgrimage town of Nashik in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Despite living in the U.S., he has stayed connected to his native land through his work.
In 2015, while his hometown was hosting the Kumbh Mela, a monthslong Hindu bathing festival that draws millions of pilgrims, he collaborated with other innovators to launch so-called Kumbhathons–special innovation camps to incubate ideas for the development of smart cities in India. The Kumbhathon tried out innovative solutions to challenges like providing housing, sanitation and transportation to pilgrims during the festival.
That effort evolved into Digital Impact Square, or DISQ, an online platform and open lab in Nashik to encourage innovation.
“The world is our lab, and a co-innovation model that spans the globe is critical for any impact-driven research,” Mr. Raskar said in emailed answers to questions.
Mr. Raskar said his background helped with his work. “My upbringing does help there, growing up in a house without even a separate bedroom or working on a farm, living in mud houses without power or water during weekends and summer holidays,” he said.
The scientist plans to use a portion of his prize money to launch help young inventors innovate in multiple countries.
“Everyone has the power to solve problems and through peer-to-peer co-invention and purposeful collaboration, we can solve problems that will impact billions of lives,” Mr. Raskar said in the MIT news release.
The past winners of the Lemelson-MIT prize include Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse; biologist Leroy Hood and Nick Holonyak, inventor of the light-emitting diode, or LED.