How did you become interested in Electrical Engineering?
I was interested in mathematics since my childhood years. I even thought about choosing mathematics as my major at the university. Then I realized that I am more interested in applying mathematics to solving real-world problems. I chose Electrical Engineering since it covers a wide range of applied fields and builds the required mathematical background. My real introduction to engineering was during my Ph.D. at University of California Berkeley, when I built the wireless magnetic sensor network platform for traffic monitoring with my advisor Prof. Pravin Varaiya. I collected a large amount of data on the road, developed signal processing algorithms for vehicle detection and designed low power wireless communication protocols, which extended the battery lifetime of the sensor nodes from a few days to a few years. This research has turned into a product in the start-up company called Sensys Networks and won 2008 Intelligent Transportation Systems Award for Best New Innovative Product. Following my Ph.D, I designed the ultra-low power wireless communication system, powered by energy scavenging technology, to transfer accelerometer data from the sensors inside the tire to the coordination nodes in the body of the car, with the goal of improving the performance of active safety systems. This is coined as Intelligent Tire and became a product in Pirelli.
My current ambition is to enable cable-free car. A present-day wiring harness in a vehicle may have up to 4000 parts, weigh as much as 40 kg, and contain up to 4 km of wiring. Eliminating the wires can potentially provide part cost, assembly, and maintenance savings, while also offering fuel efficiency and an open architecture to accommodate new sensors. The full adoption of a wireless network within a vehicle, however, requires providing the same performance and reliability as the wired communication, and infinite lifetime for the nodes.
Can you tell us about your work as an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Koc University? Could you describe a typical work day?
As an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Koc University, I have many responsibilities including teaching, research, professional and university service. I teach two classes per semester. Apart from actually teaching these classes, I prepare the teaching material, homework assignments and exams, and grade them together with my teaching assistants. For research, I closely follow the recent developments by reading conference and journal papers, write proposals for research grants, advise graduate students and write papers together with my students and collaborators. I also frequently travel for invited talks and to attend conferences. For professional service, I have recently become Editor of IEEE Communications Letters and Publicity Chair of IEEE ComSoc Women in Communications Engineering (WICE). I am also a Member of the NetWorld2020 Expert Group, a Member of IEEE WICE Award Selection Committee, Technical Program Committee Member of a large number of conferences, and reviewer for a large number of journals and projects. For university service, I serve in Koc University Fener-Frontier Editorial Board, Library Advisory Committee, and the thesis committees of many graduate students.
Each day, I perform a subset of the above activities. I tentatively plan all my daily activities the day before so that I can focus on finishing them the following day. I wake up very early in the morning and finish all the planned activities during the day with great discipline so that I can spend the evening with my family.
Can you give us a little background about Wireless Networks Laboratory? What are your main responsibilities as its Director?
I have founded Wireless Networks Laboratory (WNL - available at http://wnl.ku.edu.tr) when I joined Koc University in September 2009. The mission of our lab is to design innovative wireless communication systems by combining theoretical analysis with experimentation and simulation. There are currently eight Ph.D. students and two master students at the lab. So far, eight master students have graduated from the lab. We have acquired many prestigious awards including Turkish Academy of Sciences Distinguished Young Scientist (TUBA-GEBIP) Award, TAF (Turkish Academic Fellowship) Network - Outstanding Scientist Award, Science Academy Young Scientist (BAGEP) Award, Marie Curie Reintegration Grant, Turk Telekom Collaborative Research Award and additional support from TUBITAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey), University of California Berkeley, and Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
My main responsibilities as its Director include raising funding to buy measurement equipment and pay for the salaries of the graduate students by writing project proposals, advising graduate and undergraduate students, writing papers and presenting our work at various conferences, universities and companies.
What are your research interests? What is the most challenging?
My research program covers a wide variety of topics in the intersection of wireless networks, control systems, signal processing and intelligent transportation systems.
The most challenging is to combine the theory with the real world experimentation. If you experiment with the real world, then you realize some of the assumptions frequently appearing in the literature are not true. Then you start revising these assumptions, which may actually take a lot of your time, but this is when you actually do engineering and propose novel more realistic solutions. For instance, the low power and delay constrained PEDAMACS protocol I designed based on my real-world experience in wireless magnetic sensor networks has been patented, published and used in various companies such as Sensys Networks and Dust Networks. The wireless protocol we designed for Intelligent Tire has been patented, published and used in the Intelligent Tire product. The channel estimation technique we proposed for Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) systems has been widely used in practical systems. The resulting publication is the most cited paper in IEEE Transactions on Broadcasting. The ultra-wideband engine-area wireless network model we have built based on the extensive amount of data collected in different vehicles under various scenarios has been highlighted in IEEE Spectrum as a pioneering work recently.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently investigating many research areas in fifth generation (5G) and beyond 5G networks, including cable-free car, machine-to-machine communications, millimeter wave communication protocol, and visual light communication for vehicular networks. For cable-free car, I have been building detailed channel models for different parts of the vehicle based on the extensive amount of data collected in different kinds of cars under various scenarios. I am also investigating access management, physical layer and energy harvesting technologies to achieve the unlimited lifetime of the sensor nodes, and meet the ultra-high reliability and ultra-low latency requirements of vehicle control systems.
For machine-to-machine communications, I am working on novel access management and physical layer technologies that exploit the special characteristics of machines, such as their large number, mostly periodic but short access to the network, uplink or device-to-device intensive data transmission, for better reliability and latency performance. I am also working on achieving unlimited lifetime for the machines by exploiting radio frequency (RF) energy harvesting. In RF energy harvesting, the ambient RF radiation is captured by the receiver antennas and converted into a direct current voltage through appropriate circuits. This energy harvesting technology overcomes the main unpredictability limitation of energy harvesting from natural sources such as solar and wind. The integration of RF energy harvesting into communication networks requires a paradigm shift in the design of communication protocols since interference mostly viewed as the main degradation factor is now a useful source of energy.
I am also investigating the usage of millimeter wave communication in cellular networks and wireless local area networks. The large available unused bandwidth at millimeter wave frequencies ranging from 3 GHz to 300 GHz makes them attractive to address the strict reliability, latency and energy requirements of the large number of machines in 5G networks. However, the communication protocols should be redesigned for these networks due to their distinguishing characteristics, which include small antenna size, large bandwidth, high attenuation through most solid materials and high interaction with atmospheric constituents. Since high frequencies propagate less well and the antenna size is much smaller than lower frequencies in millimeter wave networks, much higher number of antennas can be used enabling beam forming with very large gains and manipulation of interference through more advanced beam shaping.
Furthermore, I am working on using visual light in vehicular communication and localization. A visual light communication system uses a light emitting diode (LED) as the transmitting component, and a photodiode or camera as the receiving component. Since LEDs are already used in the stop lamps, brake lights and turn signals of vehicles, this communication is a low cost alternative to the current RF technologies. Also, visual light is expected to cause minimum interference to the simultaneous transmissions at high vehicle densities due to its lower transmission angle and range. Visual light positioning, on the other hand, provides positioning errors on the order of only tens of centimeters, so can be used in many safety applications.
All of my current research activities have a common purpose of providing ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency and ultra-low power wireless communication. Once people rely on the performance of wireless communication, they will use it for many applications. One example is cooperative self-driving cars. Self-driving cars equipped with enhanced sensor equipment and sophisticated control algorithms have been tested on the roads for a few years. Google's robotic cars have about $150,000 in equipment including a $70,000 LIDAR system. The car generates a detailed 3D map of its environment and combines it with high-resolution maps of the world, to detect objects, vehicles and traffic condition, and acts accordingly. Self-driving cars improve road safety by eliminating driver mistakes based on the information provided in the line-of-sight area. However, they can improve road safety further if they communicate with each other and the road side units with very high reliability and very low latency to detect events beyond line-of-sight. Another example is remote driving. Remote driving enables someone from far location log into the vehicle to drive. In contrast to the self-driving technology that requires sophisticated sensing and control algorithms, remote driving requires combining ultra-reliable ultra-low latency vehicle-to-roadside communication with the future software-defined networking enabled backbone networks.
Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher?
My Ph.D. advisor Prof. Pravin Varaiya taught me that visionary research can actually change the world. Such visionary research requires acquiring breadth of knowledge, covering many disciplines, in order to see the big picture and identify the deficiencies of existing approaches, and depth of knowledge in a few disciplines to be able to propose a better approach.
Do you participate in professional organizations? Can you tell us about it?
I am a member of IEEE, IEEE Communications Society, IEEE Control Systems Society, IEEE Vehicular Technology Society and Networld2020 Expert Group. I am Editor of IEEE Communications Letters and Publicity Chair of IEEE ComSocWomen in Communications Engineering (WICE). I am also Technical Program Committee Member of a large number of conferences and reviewer for a large number of journals.
What do you usually do during your free time?
I have two sons, a 2 year old and a 6 year old. I spend a lot of my free time with them. I also go to the movies, do Pilates and swim.
Few years from now, what direction do you see yourself?
I hope to enable new wireless applications by making breakthrough in my current research on machine-to-machine ultra-reliable and ultra-low latency communication with infinite lifetime in beyond 5G networks. These include cable-free car, cooperative self-driving cars, remote driving, and many others we may not imagine today.
As a professor, what words of encouragement would you give to your students?
A good engineer can actually make a lasting impact in the world. There is no limit on what you can achieve if you combine your creativity and hard work with the skills you acquire throughout your engineering education.
The education in engineering provides you with the necessary tools to learn, identify and solve real-world problems. In engineering, there is an immense breadth and depth of knowledge, which expands even more each day. You need to continue learning to keep up with all the developments around the world so that you can identify the most impactful problems. Then solving these problems requires passion, ambition, persistence and good team work. You need to love your work so that you can work long hours without getting bored. You need to be ambitious in setting your goals. This will keep you motivated knowing that what you are working on may actually change the world. You need to be persistent because you will always face problems while you are designing a system. The ability to handle these problems makes you a good engineer. You should always work with professional and hard-working people. This will help you focus on your work and be more productive.
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