Chennai IIT-ian in US to Commercialise Invention

Excerpted from The Press Trust of India

NEW DELHI: It is not only management and software gurus from India who are creating waves in the US business world.

An Non-resident Indian scientist has stepped into the American corporate ring and set up a company to commercialise his invention. Prof. Balakumar Balachandran of the University of Maryland said the fibre optic-based optical sensor system developed by him had applications in sectors as diverse as automobiles, defence, medicine and entertainment.

The invention of Balachandran, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, was declared the 'physical science invention of the year' by the University of Maryland. Odexia, the company set up to commercialise and market the invention, was incorporated last week.

"Odexia is in the process of finalising a licensing agreement with the University of Maryland to commercialise the invention. Details of my participation in the company are being worked out. Being the lead inventor, the company would like me to play a key role in its development,'' the 40-year-old, whose parents and brother live in Bangalore, told PTI from College Park, Maryland.

Balachandran said the unique features of his optical sensor system were its high sensitivity, dynamic range and potential to be miniaturised to the microscopic level for micro-electromechanical systems.

It has a wide range of potential uses in the defence industry and commercial businesses, from fiber tip-based microphones to acoustic measurements that can determine whether automobiles, aircraft and ships have metal fatigue damage, Balachandran said.

"The system makes use of components used in the telecom industry. Other possible applications include vibration control systems, noise control systems, theatre acoustics and biomedical applications where a catheter will be introduced into the human body to take measurements,'' he said.

Balachandran said even after the system was fully developed, its commercial applications never occurred to him before some colleagues approached him.

"The feedback that we received at some meetings from colleagues at other universities prompted us to move in the direction of commercialisation,'' he said.

Balachandran said discussions were on with venture capitalists to fund the company. "We have received strong interest from an outfit that would like to provide us seed money to get us going,'' he said.

Born in 1963 in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, Balachandran grew up in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu, where his father worked in the Neyveli Lignite Corporation.

He did his B Tech in naval architecture from IIT, Chennai, before immigrating to the US in 1985. There, he completed his MS (Aerospace Engineering) and Phd (Engineering Mechanics) from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and state university. He joined the mechanical engineering department of the University of Maryland in 1993.

Balachandran is also a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Published May 19, 2003