Nicolas Villar grew up interested in two things: computer programming and building objects. Today, he is Principal Hardware Architect at Microsoft Premonition, creating next generation technology to help predict viruses before they affect humans.
The magic of making
I am a tactile learner. Growing up, I had a fascination with building objects. I never outgrew that. It evolved into this passion and career of infusing objects with intelligence and AI. It's a very fulfilling feeling - that moment when something that you imagined becomes real, exactly the way you envisioned. That’s why I love being a maker.
Growing up around the world
I am from Colombia, and I have also lived in Kenya, Israel, and the UK. It was a gift to grow up around so many different and amazing people. But in every place I’ve lived, there was a shocking divide between people with money and those without it. It influenced my view of the world. Now, I'm passionate about creating technology that can help everyone.
My process of creating
There are many variables when you create something new. What is its shape? How will people use it? How will it interface with the world? I start by sketching an idea, then make it real using tools such as 3D printers. I can then infuse it with technology and AI. It feels like magic. I love combining maker culture, AI, and societal challenges.
Early warning system for epidemics
Microsoft Premonition aims to build early warning system that monitors the environment for early signs of epidemics. We focus on mosquitoes because they feed on many animals and can encounter the diseases. We are building robotic devices to monitor mosquitoes, using them to detect pathogens and diseases. This resonated with me because I’ve lived in places where mosquito-borne illnesses are a daily worry for people.
Making smart mosquito traps
We quickly learned we can’t test our devices in every global environment before putting them out into the world. We built a lab that can replicate any environment in the world, simulating different light, humidity, temperate and wind conditions. We can use the data from the lab to train the AI for our traps to classify mosquitoes before they enter a real-world environment.
Innovating through AI eyes
Creating this lab and deploying the devices is like pointing a telescope into a part of the universe that we’ve never seen before. It provides us with new data for a deeper understanding of our interconnected planet, leading to new insights into solving some of our most difficult challenges. We all live in the same world, and if we tackle problems that affect humanity, then everyone benefits.
Nicolas Villar takes to Twitter
Find answers posted by Nicolas Villar during a recent Microsoft Research Twitter chat about the innovative technology that helps predict viruses before they affect humans.
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