The world is becoming more and more reliant on artificial intelligence.
Smartphones, smart homes, social media, cars and other modern devices are utilizing AI, and innovations created by University of Michigan professor Wei Lu are leading the way in the creation of more powerful and efficient AI systems.
For his pioneering efforts in the development and commercialization of novel electrical devices, Lu, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, has earned this year’s Distinguished University Innovator of the Year Award.
The Distinguished University Innovator of the Year Award honors faculty members who have developed transformative ideas, processes or technologies and shepherded them to market. It was established in 2007 and is supported by endowments from the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Stephen and Rosamund Forrest Family Foundation.
“First and foremost, we are a public research university, and so we all have a unique responsibility to ensure that our discoveries and innovations are not siloed to our laboratories and studios,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research and the William G. Barsan Collegiate Professor of Emergency Medicine.
“As a research community, we must translate our work to positively impact the world around us. Professor Lu truly embodies the university’s broader vision to develop and implement innovative products and solutions for the betterment of society.”
OVPR selected this year’s recipient based on the recommendation of a faculty selection committee that reviews a pool of nominees. Lu will receive the award on Oct. 13 at the annual Celebrate Invention event at the Michigan Union.
Designing for the next generation of AI
Lu understood early on that the future of computing relied on the ability to develop computer memory devices powerful enough to support AI-enabled applications. Upon joining U-M in 2005, Lu began working with a research team to tackle this problem.
Traditional computers are built with separate memory and processor chips, and the cost of constant data transfer between them severely limits their overall efficiency. Lu and his research team developed a new type of computer memory device that could be used to both store and efficiently process data in the same device.
“The way we live, work and socialize has been fundamentally changed by recent advances in semiconductors,” said Mingyan Liu, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and the Peter and Evelyn Fuss Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who nominated Lu for this year’s award.
“Central to these developments is the ability to efficiently store enormous amounts of data and the ability to efficiently process the data to produce useful information. Professor Lu has made significant contributions in both areas, including the invention of fundamentally new memory devices and computing circuits, leading to their successful commercialization,” Liu said.
In 2018, Lu and Zhengya Zhang, both professors of electrical engineering and computer science, co-founded MemryX Inc., a U-M startup company with a focus on commercializing these in-memory computing solutions. Prior to founding MemryX, Lu co-founded Crossbar Inc. in 2010 and led its efforts to transfer device technology from university research to commercial manufacturing.
“Through our research and commercialization efforts, we hope to bring about transformative change that will allow us to seamlessly incorporate AI applications across many industries,” Lu said.
The AI Accelerator chips developed by MemryX are already being tested by customers, while Crossbar has established several product lines through its innovative ReRAM technology.
On the commercialization process, Lu said about his experience at U-M: “I’m grateful for the support I received at the University of Michigan in launching both of my companies. Innovation Partnerships has always been available to help me navigate the commercialization process, and I’m also grateful for the matchless contributions of my U-M faculty, student and alumni collaborators.”
Lu will receive the award at the annual Celebrate Invention event Oct. 13 at the Michigan Union. Celebrate Invention is free, and the public is welcome and encouraged to attend this celebration of U-M inventors and the growing impact of university innovations. Registration is required.