New CSEE assistant professor Nilanjan Banerjee works on building renewable energy-driven devices.

Though technology has become an essential resource for many, it’s using up more and more of another kind of resource: energy. Not only is energy production costly, but it’s not infallible. For a generation that’s come to rely on technology, what do we do when we’re unexpectedly cut off? That’s a question that new Computer Science and Electrical Engineering professor Nilanjan Banerjee, 30, is answering with renewable energy-driven devices that keep us connected, especially when we need it the most.

Consider the following: a natural disaster strikes and you need to find a path to safety. Cell phone towers are down and there’s no wireless internet signal for miles. That's where Dr. Banerjee’s self-sustainable solar-powered emergency mesh comes in. It’s kind of like Google Maps, except it could save your life.

Made up of ultra-low power solar nodes that can be charged with solar panels, the mesh’s goal is to provide natural disaster survivors with a risk-free path to an emergency shelter. Risk-free means that you’ll be guided around burning buildings, car accidents, and other hazards, even if it means taking a bit of a detour. Just pull out your iPhone, or android, or other smartphone, and connect to the mesh when all other wireless networks are down. A digital map will appear and lead you to safety.

The medical and military worlds are two other areas where lives literally count on dependable technology. Here, Banerjee has tied his interest in renewable-energy driven devices to things like EKG data  collection and communication between military busses and tanks.

Green homes are another area of interest for Banerjee, who has been installing monitoring systems in both on and off-grid homes to try and gauge energy consumption. The way it works is they collect instantaneous residual battery voltage and the energy consumed by the house. “Our goal is to make it easier for off-grid and grid-tied home residents to make smart choices about managing energy,” explains the project website. In fact, he’s got a smartphone application in the works that would use this information to tell homeowners when they should use highly consumptive devices like a clothes dryer, and that could send warnings about critical battery situations in the home.

Banerjee discovered renewable energy-driven devices as a Computer Science Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He was drawn to the challenge of making these highly efficient devices, and in light of growing global environmental concerns, he thought the field was especially relevant.

After graduate school, Banerjee took a position as an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Arkansas. He started a lab, Mobile, Pervasive, and Sensor Systems Laboratory, which focused on three key areas: renewable energy driven systems, healthcare systems, and mobile phone based systems. As a professor, his course repertoire included subjects like programming paradigms, mobile and pervasive computing, and mobile phone application development.

During his inaugural Fall semester at UMBC, Banerjee will teach Computer Architecture for the first time. He describes his teaching method as “hands on.” Students in his class will see lots of demonstrations, and the chance to learn how to build real systems. Because, while the research is important to him, so is the teaching. After all, it was UMBC’s mix of strength in both research and undergraduate teaching, explains Banerjee, that drew him to the university in the first place.