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MAIN STORY | Vol. 6, No. 34, August 24, 2006
(Back To College)

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Niranjan Suri


Age: 34
Education: University of West Florida bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1994. UWF master’s degree in computer science in 1995.
Job: Florida Institute of Human & Machine Cognition research scientist

College: Suri spent his freshman year at the University of Alabama, but then decided to transfer to UWF. He heard good things about the computer science department, plus his cousin, Chandra Sekhar Prayaga, taught at the college and is now chairs the Physics Department.

“It is important to do well in your class work but getting the hands on experience is critical,” says Suri.

In fact, he began working at IHMC, while in school.

“It was great. I got a lot of practical experiences and challenging problems,” he recalls.

Experience: For the past decade, Suri has lived his childhood dream at the Institute.

In the fourth grade, his father, an aeronautical engineer, bought him a Sinclair computer that allowed him to begin learning to write programs that, for example, made the characters move back and forth on the screen.

Now his projects at IHMC include devising computers with sensors that help the military collect information in combat situations, which also would have applications in helping emergency officials respond to disasters. He’s also working with other researchers who are trying to get robots and humans to work in conjunction with each other on a project. He says an upcoming test matches robots against each other in a soccer game to see how the coordination works.

“A computer was the coolest thing you could get as a kid,” he says. “It was both entertaining and educational. Working on those, one thing led to another. I’ve always wanted to work on computers.”

His research leads him on travels all over the world, just last week to Lisbon, Portugal, and Prague in the Czech Republic, plus he gets to work with top researchers.

“A great aspect of the job is collaborating with people all over the U.S. and all over the world, who come up with cool ideas, and then working with them to realize those ideas,” he admits.

Community: If you asked Suri what kept him in Pensacola four years ago, his answer would have been his job—nothing else.

But he says, now, he enjoys the direction he sees Pensacola heading in. And after officially becoming a U.S. citizen recently, he fully intends to use his right to vote for the first time. He grew up in Bangalore, India, but traveled to the United States frequently with his family.

“I’m glad to be able to vote in the elections,” he says. “I’ll be voting for change.”

Locally, he wants to see more people living in the downtown area and see it revitalized. He built a home in Aragon a few years ago, which was among the first dozen to go up and where he likes to entertain his neighbors with wine tastings and cooking. It’s a short walk to his IHMC office.

“I consider this my home and I like that it has a more relaxed environment than a big city,” he says. “But it’s important to me that downtown become a place for more people to live.”

And although he enjoys the symphony, opera and ballet, he’d like to see even more cultural activities and “more things for young people to do downtown.”