5 projects with UC Berkeley researchers receive seed funding from UC research center

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The award of up to $60,000 for each team is intended to jump-start early-stage research and 'shorten the pipeline' between laboratory investigations and the establishment of applications and industries, according to CITRIS and the Banatao Institute's website.

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Five projects involving UC Berkeley researchers were awarded seed funding from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, or CITRIS, and the Banatao Institute, which advance interdisciplinary research at multiple UC campuses.

The award of up to $60,000 for each team is intended to jump-start early-stage research and “shorten the pipeline” between laboratory investigations and the establishment of applications and industries, according to CITRIS and the Banatao Institute’s website. Past projects that received seed funding from CITRIS and the Banatao Institute have gone on to win more than $60 million total in subsequent support from Intel, Microsoft Corp. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, according to the website.

“It’s a small amount of money just to kind of find out, is (the project) a starter, are there any key roadblocks to it, just almost from the get-go,” said Tim Lipman, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center. “So having small projects to try out new ideas in a small way, that then could lead to much bigger things.”

To qualify for funding, projects must involve researchers from multiple UC campuses, according to campus political science professor emeritus John Zysman. His team intends to investigate platforms used in agriculture and their impact on farmers and farmworkers.

According to Zysman, the team will use the funding to hire graduate and undergraduate students to help conduct interviews and collect data, as well as to pay for travel expenses if it becomes possible in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lipman’s project aims to consolidate charging data for electric cars into a central database, which he said could prove useful to a variety of groups, including utilities companies who wish to optimize their grid or companies such as Google with a fleet of electric cars in their parking lots. Lipman and his co-researcher likewise plan to use the funding to hire undergraduate and graduate students to aid them in their work.

According to Lipman, small seed grants such as those provided by CITRIS and the Banatao Institute offer important support to younger faculty as they become established in their careers.

Campus assistant professors Emily Cooper from the School of Optometry and Kosa Goucher-Lambert from the mechanical engineering department also received grants for their projects.

Cooper and her co-researcher plan to create an augmented reality system that will help people with visual impairment avoid obstacles, while Goucher-Lambert and his team aim to develop behavioral and strategic models for artificial intelligence based on dynamic human input.

Campus alumna Anita Balaraman, an adjunct faculty member within the College of Engineering, said she hopes the seed grant will enable her team to find or develop optimal mentoring methods to bring and retain more women and underrepresented minorities in technology. She added that this stage of their project will enable them to explore avenues for additional research.

“Hopefully we can take it further along in subsequent rounds and apply for funding that will help us explore, in a lot more detail, about what specific aspects of power dynamics can create a barrier for mentoring,” Balaraman said.

Contact Annika Rao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @annikyr.