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Nokia Announces 2020 Bell Labs Prize Winners

Georgia Tech ECE Team Takes Third Place

Atlanta, GA
Cheng Qi (left), with Marcus Weldon, president of Nokia Bell Labs

Cheng Qi (left), with Marcus Weldon, president of Nokia Bell Labs, at the 2020 Bell Labs Prize virtual awards ceremony.  

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Nokia held a virtual awards ceremony on December 3 and announced the winners of the 2020 Bell Labs Prize, a competition that recognizes disruptive innovations that will define the next industrial revolution. Proposals were received from 208 academics in 26 countries, and a team from the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) was presented with the third-place prize.

The 2020 Bell Labs Prize competition launched in March 2020 and finalists were announced in June 2020. Each finalist was assigned both a leader from the Nokia Bell Labs research team and a research mentor, and they worked together to advance their innovations throughout the year. Proposals were presented in front of a panel of renowned experts and industry leaders who judged the proposals based on a credible proof-of-concept or set of results that validate the innovation’s full potential. The judges selected three winners based on the demonstrated disruptive potential of their work:

The first-place prize ($100,000) was awarded to Firooz Aflatouni, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, for his proposal “Integrated Photonic-mmWave Deep Networks.” Using deep neural network photonic chips as a platform for artificial intelligence, his system has demonstrated that image and video recognition in the optical domain brings a wealth of possibilities for the future. Photonic platforms interpret and recognize images at the speed of light, some six billion times a second, making them significantly faster than today’s digital computational platforms. The system is small, all-optical, energy-efficient, and low-cost, making it easy to incorporate into a myriad of other solutions such as embedded AI in camera systems. 

The second-place prize ($50,000) was awarded to Sanjeev Arora, professor in the Department of Computer Science at Princeton University. His teammates are Yangsibo Huang (Ph.D. student), Kai Li (professor of the Department of Computer Science), and Zhao Song (postdoctoral researcher), also all of Princeton. Their proposal, “How to allow deep learning on your data without revealing your data,” solves a significant problem with the lack of privacy in machine learning tools. Their InstaHide solution is a universal method for encrypting training images that is efficient to apply with only minor impact on model accuracy. This innovative approach will allow the sharing of data to fully leverage the power of machine learning models without sacrificing privacy or compromising security.

The third-place prize ($25,000) was awarded to Cheng Qi, a Ph.D. student at the Georgia Tech School of ECE, and his teammates, Francesco Amato (postdoctoral researcher at Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy) and Gregory Durgin (ECE Professor at Georgia Tech), for their proposal “Hyper RFID: A Revolution for The Future of RFID.” Their innovative tags are based on a new type of quantum tunneling radio positioning (QTRP) system that provides highly accurate wireless positioning with an extended RFID coverage range of meters today to more than a kilometer in the future, with low-cost tags with a battery life of up to ten years. These revolutionary capabilities for RFID tags should greatly facilitate the tracking of people and assets or the navigation of autonomous drones and vehicles using drop-and-forget waypoints.

Marcus Weldon, president of Nokia Bell Labs and CTO of Nokia, said, "We are on the verge of a new value paradigm of ‘Remote X’ enabled by 5G as the critical networking infrastructure that will allow the remote access to, interaction with, and intelligent control of everything, from anywhere. True to the principles of ‘Remote X’, this year’s Bell Labs Prize award ceremony was held virtually and recognized the most innovative proposals, all of which have the potential to help solve critical ‘remote’ problems that are confronting humanity. We are excited to continue working with the winners to help them further develop their ideas and realize their vision.”

In addition to their cash prizes, the winners will also be given the opportunity to deepen their collaboration with the world-renowned researchers at Nokia Bell Labs to develop their game-changing innovations further.

Photo description of the Hyper RFID system, shown in the Van Leer Building: The moving reader is mounted on the wire cart, which is pictured in the foreground of the photo. The three orange poles represent fixed tags. 

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Additional Photos

2020 Bell Labs Prize award winners

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Indoor setup of the Hyper RFID system

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Last revised December 8, 2020