In episode 38, we speak with Juhi Ranjan, computer scientist and part of the RTI Research and Development team. Juhi offers an inside look at how the RTI Research team operates and how new technologies are researched and advanced.

In Episode 38 of The Connext Podcast:

  • [0:36] What does the research team look like?  
  • [2:55] How the research team breaks the stereotype of a scientist 
  • [4:29] Current projects in research 
  • [10:25] What’s in store for the future of RTI research

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Podcast Transcription:

Steven Onzo: Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of The Connext Podcast. Today, my guest is a computer scientist and part of the RTI Research and Development team. During our interview, we take an inside look at how RTI's research team operates and how new technologies they're working on are researched and then advanced to commercialization. I'd like to welcome to The Connext Podcast, Juhi Ranjan.

Welcome to the podcast, Juhi. Thanks for joining us.

Juhi Ranjan: Thanks, Steven.

[0:36] What does the research team look like?  

Steven Onzo: So, we're here to talk about what life is like on the RTI research team. Juhi, you joined the research team about 10 months back, so I thought we could kick things off by simply talking about what the research team looks like.

Juhi Ranjan: Yeah. So, at RTI, our research team is currently seven people strong, and yeah, we have some really great people in the team. In fact, I was really surprised. We have such a diverse set of experience for a team this size. We have amazing software engineers that have been with RTI for more than 10 years. They understand DDS so well, they can prototype and test ideas really fast. And then we have our scientists. We have a security expert; he has more than 20 years of experience, and we have folks who did their PhD thesis in middleware and DDS. Our team's director has led government-funded and commercial-funded military research for over 20 years now.

And then there's me. I come from the systems side. Before RTI, I was actually doing systems research, creating assistive devices for people with disabilities. My PhD thesis was around smart homes technology, trying to save energy in homes, supporting the elderly to live independently for as long as they can in their own homes.

Steven Onzo: Right. So from software engineers to people working in security or systems, like yourself, how do you even decide what projects the group is going to work on?

Juhi Ranjan: Well, yeah. We may be diverse, but we're really clear about our role here at RTI. We are interested in driving customer success by advancing our products’ capabilities to the bleeding edge of technology. And doing this means more than just having deep technical expertise. We interact with almost all parts of the company, probably the most with the product management team, but also with our market directors, the CTO, the development team, sales, services, legal, accounting, you name it.

Steven Onzo: There's a certain stereotype of a scientist. This doesn't seem to match that. Can you tell me a little bit how RTI is different?

[2:55] How the research team breaks the stereotype of a scientist

Juhi Ranjan: Yeah. So, you're right. There is a certain stereotype about scientists. We are supposed to be aloof, detached, zero social skills, locked away in our ivory tower hacking away on our computers and devices, testing these really eccentric ideas that no one cares about.

Steven Onzo: The mad scientist.

Juhi Ranjan: Right. Exactly. We could not be any further away from the stereotype. I mean, we could be mad, I'm happy to accept that label, but our motivation is customer success. We don't want to be working on eccentric ideas that end up just catching dust on our shelves. We do want our ideas to be commercialized. And for that, we really need to have a pulse on what the market trends are. And so, for us, the best way to do this is talking to the market directors, the sales teams, the FAEs [field application engineers], really people who are on the front line of interacting with our customers, and then use this information to prioritize our work here at research. And to ensure that our findings end up being commercialized, we really like to stay in sync with our product management team, know what they're planning to work on, try and see if there are any alignments between what we are working on and what the product roadmaps are. And so I'm getting a good firsthand experience of this process right now.

[4:29] Current projects in research

Steven Onzo: Yeah. I remember we were talking about this a few days back, and you were looking for alignments for a modeling and simulation topic.

Juhi Ranjan: Right. So, I've been trying to sync up with the product management team around a modeling and simulation SBIR Phase 1 project that we recently completed. So, we were funded by the Missile Defense Agency to explore how DDS can be used as a modeling and simulation framework, and I think it was really great experience for me, because I started to understand what our customers at MDA really wanted to use modeling and simulation for, and I started mapping our product capabilities to their requirements. I had this new respect for our suite of products.

I discovered that we already support so much of what they needed in their operability support for different platforms, languages, supporting system evolution. We have extensible types. They wanted to record simulation data and replay and analyze post-facto. We have RTI Connext Record and Replay. So, yeah, it was a great experience.

Steven Onzo: So, you mentioned that this work was part of an SBIR Phase 1 project. What is an SBIR?

Juhi Ranjan: Great question. SBIR stands for Small Business Innovation Research, and these are basically government-mandated, earmarked R&D funds that small businesses compete for. SBIRs are basically one of the main avenues for funding our research activities at RTI. In fact, we have about $7 million worth of SBIR contracts right now. So, how we go about this is, the government will periodically release topics of interest for the SBIR funding, and we'll write proposals around RTI's interest in the topic. In fact, one of the proposals that I worked on around network function virtualization just got accepted for funding, and the contract is expected to start really soon.

Steven Onzo: Network function virtualization. This sounds interesting. What's that project all about?

Juhi Ranjan: So, let me just tell you a little bit about what network function virtualization, or NFV, is. We've been noticing this new trend of an advocacy for a different way to distribute and operate networking services. What this means is, you want to decouple the network functions from proprietary hardware appliances, so they can basically run on software on any standardized hardware. What this means is we move systems like firewalls, deep packet inspection, intrusion prevention, as virtual network functions that can run on things like commodity servers.

Steven Onzo: And why does RTI care about NFV?

Juhi Ranjan: Well, we believe we can make NFV work better on tactical networks and in networks which experience disruptions, connectivity issues, bandwidth issues... Because while NFV can handle real-time network topology changes and it can cope up with different payload requirements, the typical enterprise NFV system uses a metacentric communications framework, which really needs additional application logic and configurations to work in a DIL network, or a network that experiences disruptions. And our hypothesis is that if we replace a metacentric connectivity framework with a data-centric framework such as RTI Connext DDS, we can make the overall architecture resilient to these low-quality network environments, and we can also provide data-aware services for efficiently utilizing the NFV infrastructure.

Steven Onzo: Right. Okay. So, let's talk about how things move from the R to the D in research and development, meaning, what the path to commercialization has been for some of these SBIR projects.

Juhi Ranjan: I think in the past we have contributed a lot in terms of seeding product ideas or even product enhancements, and to me, the most notable have been researchers' contributions to RTI Connext DDS Secure and Micro. So, a significant proportion of DDS Security Plugins and RTI Connext Micro were actually outcomes of researchers' activities, and we also contribute a lot to the RTI Labs product, Connector. RTI DDS Connector provides a means to use scripting languages, such as Python, JavaScript, Go, Lua, for getting access to RTI Connext DDS framework, and this really helps our customers prototype and test out solutions really fast.

And so we're hoping, as we start contracts on new civil topics, they will eventually wind up enhancing our product capabilities. We're about to start working on an unsupervised machine learning technique to filter out uninteresting data that doesn't get sent on the wire. I'm really interested to see how this works out.

[10:25] What’s in store for the future of RTI research

Steven Onzo: Well, this is actually a good segue, and as the conversation winds down, can you talk about what you look forward to and what you find most exciting about taking on projects in the future?

Juhi Ranjan: So, I would love to bring in some of my experience as a systems researcher into how I approach projects here at RTI. For me, as a systems researcher, it was all about coming up with ideas around solving problems that people had. I would go visit elderly care facilities in the US, NGOs that were treating leprosy patients in India, talk to people who had cerebral palsy, just try and get a sense of what their pain points were, and then I would try to come up with hypothesis for systems that could help them out.

So, here at RTI, so far I've been looking at customer success as impact that we have on companies or our customers who buy our products, and help them be successful at catering to the end users. What I want to do now is use my experience of sensing the end user pain points and ensuring that when we come up with ideas, they're holistic. Then look at the really bigger picture, making sure we can anticipate how our customers would use our products and solve the end user problems, sometimes in ways that even they might not have thought of. So, to me, that would truly mean making our customers successful.

Steven Onzo: Excellent. Well, Juhi, I want to thank you for coming on to the podcast and shedding some light on what the research team does here at RTI.

Juhi Ranjan: Thank you, Steven.

Steven Onzo: And to all of the listeners, thanks again for tuning in to The Connext Podcast. We'll see you next time.


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