Prof. Aline Eid seeks to better perceive the world using a 5G Wireless Power Grid

Prof. Eid is looking to design the future of smart cities and infrastructures using ultra-low power wireless sensing and communications technologies.
Aline Eid

Prof. Aline Eid is a new faculty member in Electrical and Computer Engineering specializing in Applied Electromagnetics and RF Circuits. Her research focuses on ultra-low power wireless sensing using Radar and RFID/mmID technology, backscattering communications, wireless power transfer and energy harvesting, and RF and mm-wave antennas and circuits.

Her work could help shape the future of smart cities and responsive infrastructures, as well as help enhance the spatial awareness and safety of autonomous vehicles.

In this Q&A, Eid talks about her research, what she likes most about U-M, what she looks for in graduate students, and her favorite travel destinations.

Tell us a bit about your current research. What sort of problems are you looking to address?

Fundamentally, we know very little about ourselves and the world around us. Indeed, each one of us can only be in one place at the same time and, even then, are only able to exert a limited amount of attention to our visible surroundings. Thankfully, we have been able to delegate some of this activity to computer systems which, enabled by sensors, can enhance our awareness and senses by monitoring limited aspects of our world. However, this awareness is very spatially sparse–you can get regional air quality but not that at your local park–and delayed–a diagnosis of diabetes is generally pronounced more than 4 years after its onset. It is not that we lack the computational abilities to process all the information about our world, rather that we are unable to acquire it in the first place. The rift between digital and physical realms is, therefore, vast.

This is where my expertise in electromagnetics comes in. Our engineering of these waves is the closest we have ever gotten to teleportation–we can, at the speed of light, interact with remote locations of our environment, earth, and universe. However, interactions between electromagnetic waves and matter are fundamentally very limited in variety and strength. In my work, I focus on creating devices (tags) which deepen and diversify the interactions between mm-waves (the waves used by 5G, for instance) and the physical world to provide us with fine-grained and instant knowledge of its state and evolution. Furthermore, I have also been the first to demonstrate that we can use such waves to wirelessly transmit the power that these tags require to operate and that this could be achieved using the 5G networks currently being deployed by cellular providers. I am currently striving to make this concept–the 5G Wireless Power Grid–a reality.

I am very enthusiastic about the groundbreaking potential applications enabled by these fundamental capabilities developed by my group. One that I am particularly excited about is its implementation to smart and responsive infrastructures. Using the fine-grained knowledge of itself and of its inhabitants–both living and robotic–provided by my technologies, cities could become intelligent complex organisms capable of adapting and morphing to provide their citizens with efficient, comfortable, and sustainable lives. One of my current focus points towards the realization of this vision is the inclusion of autonomous vehicles into this urban system, thereby significantly enhancing their spatial awareness and safety.

What got you interested in this branch of engineering? What do you enjoy most about your current field?

I have always been fascinated with the inner workings of gadgets around me. When I joined the engineering program at my undergraduate school in Lebanon, I gravitated toward electrical engineering and its use of invisible particles (electrons) to achieve seemingly magical applications. I have also always been one to like a good challenge and this discipline, dominated by men, appealed to my daring character. Later on–and for similar reasons–I decided to venture into the complex world of the ethereal yet ubiquitous electromagnetic waves that permeate our environment and enable the wireless capabilities that we now take for granted. Fascinated by the historical breakthroughs of the giants of the field like Faraday, Maxwell, and Tesla (to name only a few) whose shoulders we stand on, I delved deeper into studying the critical technologies enabled by electromagnetics, such as the telegraph, radio, radar, and wireless power. From the low megahertz used by Hertz in his first wireless experiments to the hundreds of terahertz being arduously generated by today’s pioneers, electromagnetics offers a wide palette of scales, regimes, and applications to research and explore–it is really exciting!

Why did you choose to come work at U-M? What excites you most about working here?

I chose U-M because it is one of the top schools in the nation and in the world, known for its academic excellence and research contributions across a wide range of disciplines, especially in the fields of electrical engineering and computer science. Moreover, I get to be surrounded by an amazing body of faculty and students and get the privilege to be part of the Radiation Laboratory and its illustrious history in radar research, remote sensing, and wireless technologies. U-M also has strong ties with industry, amongst which is automotive—an area of deep interest to me—and offers myriad opportunities to help faculty transform their cutting-edge research into products that drive significant societal or environmental impact. Lastly, and more importantly, the community here is known to promote a healthy lifestyle and is a great place to start and raise a family.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

As much as the role of teaching is challenging, it is immensely rewarding to the students as to us instructors. I find fulfillment and enjoyment in teaching for several reasons. I enjoy being able to inspire and motivate my students, ignite curiosity, and spark their interest. I find it gratifying to be able to make a difference in their lives and watch them grow personally and intellectually. I also enjoy conveying my enthusiasm for certain topics and guiding them to discover their passion and strengths, and to help them build confidence. My connection with students often expands beyond the classroom, creating long-lasting and fulfilling relationships of mentorship, support, and trust.

What qualities do you look for when selecting students to work with on research?

Thanks to my previous advisors and interactions with my colleagues and mentees throughout my graduate school, I learnt that, in hiring students, I should strive to find a combination of technical, behavioral, and cultural fit with my group. With that being said, I seek students with whom I can build a relationship of respect, trust, and transparency. I enjoy working with students who are dependable, responsible, and committed to the research’s timelines and goals. In addition, I look for students who are proactive and self-motivated with the ability to think creatively, outside the box when faced with complex problems. Finally, I deeply value students who, in addition to technical excellence, thrive to improve their communication and presentation skills, and are able to engage in constructive discussions in collaborative environments.

What are some of your favorite hobbies? Do you have any pets?

Traveling as a family is by far my number one hobby, with my country Lebanon and Europe being my favorite destinations. One of the things I enjoy doing the most is walks in the parks and the pursuit of exceptional coffee places and restaurants along with my husband and baby girl. I do not have any pets yet, but I would love to have a Samoyed one day.

Aline Eid; Applied Electromagnetics and RF Circuits; Autonomous Vehicles; Division News; Electronics, Devices, Computers; Sensing and Sensors; Sustainability