ORNL scientists turning passion for algorithms into new company

Imagine having the opportunity to transition from developing a technology to working to get it used in the commercial marketplace.

It’s not the dream of every scientist, but it is the aspiration of two researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) who formed NetwoRCSim to commercialize software they invented and then obtained a license from ORNL for the invention.

The two scientists are Phani Teja Kuruganti and James Nutaro, colleagues in ORNL’s Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, the two described how they came to ORNL, became collaborators, developed an award winning technology, and eventually founded their own company. It’s a story of passion for their research and a desire to see their work revolutionize the deployment of wireless networks.

Both joined the lab full-time in 2005.  Kuruganti is a native of India who earned his master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2003 and soon after joined ORNL as post-master’s researcher. Nutaro is an Arizona native who worked in the defense industry while attending the University of Arizona and came to ORNL shortly after completing his doctorate degree.

Soon after joining ORNL, the two found a mutual interest in the development of algorithms. As their collaboration continued, they saw a significant opportunity for the RCSim software to be used in very complex deployments such as mines, offshore drilling platforms, and factory floors. Nutaro says that “the big market is industrial applications,” particularly in complex facilities that have many metal walls and equipment that can result in wide variations in signal strength and quality.

“The industrial wireless (assessment) space is totally vacant,” he says. “Our software reduces capital investment costs while increasing network reliability.”

Kuruganti describes RCSim “as a deployment tool” to help companies move from “best guess” on where to place wireless devices to one that will allow company to “precisely know signal strength” at every installation point.

“It can reduce the need for expensive wireless surveys, lower the quantity and cost of deployed hardware, and improve the accuracy of cost estimates quoted by vendors,” Nutaro adds. “It enables vendors of industrial wireless networks to identify coverage problems before deploying a network.”

They draw parallels between the initial deployment of cellular towers, when it was best guess, to the more analytical approach today. As such, the duo sees significant potential for the RCSim software as the cellular industry transitions from the large towers to smaller installations in buildings.

“This movement is driven by the demand for a higher quality of service (signal strength), particularly in cluttered areas,” they say, adding that there is real potential in very dense Asian population centers such as Tokyo and Beijing.

“To maintain high-quality data rates, you have to have better systems,” Nutaro notes.

RCSim recently won an R & D Magazine citation as one of the top 100 technologies of 2012. More information about the award can be found at http://www.rdmag.com/Awards/Rd-100-Awards/2012/08/Wireless-Simulation-In-A-Relaxed-Way/.

Kuruganti and Nutaro admit that they are funding NetwoRCSim themselves “on a shoestring budget.” The software is being sold online at www.NetwoRCSim.com. A beta version is available for free for prospective users to explore. The “high performance version” is $350.

Their business plan calls for other companies to license RCSim and bundle it with their software, while the duo continues to refine the all-important algorithms on their own time. They are currently exploring partnerships with several companies.

For Kuruganti and Nutaro, it is clear that they have found their ideal – continuing to be researchers at ORNL while also experiencing the entrepreneurial world.

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