Society News

Who’s who in the OES

Venugopalan Pallayil (Venu), OES AdCom Member

When Bob asked me to write for the column ‘Who is Who in OES’ in the BEACON Newsletter, I kept thinking what would the readers want to know about me and why should they bother with who I am? People who would want to know my official side of things can always take a look at my work-related website or Google for it. And sometimes even personal things could also pop up (Recently I was surprised to see many of my personal details, including the date of my marriage on a website apparently hosted somewhere in Russia. Some of my personal information leaked from my desire to be listed under ‘Marquis Who is Who’ for which I had registered a few years back). In this column I wish to share some things that I want you to know about me, which will hopefully be of interest.

ROMANIS, the 2D ambient noise imaging camera getting ready for deployment (top) and its
508 sensor array exposed (bottom).

About me: I was born in Kerala, widely known as Gods Own Country, which is a land of coconut trees, backwaters, mountains and beaches. It is the southernmost state of India and our mother tongue is Malayalam (it reads the same both ways when written in English). I graduated with a Masters in Physics and a PhD in Microwave Electronics from Cochin University of Science and Technology. However, I ended up working at much lower frequencies, though at the same wavelength. I worked as an R&D scientist in the Defence Research and Development Organisation, India, for 11 years with major contributions in the field of air-borne ASW systems. Prior to joining DRDO, India, I also underwent a one-year Electronics Fellowship Course, attended by 50 select graduates at all India level annually. In 1998, I moved to Singapore and joined the Acoustic Research Laboratory (ARL), Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), National University of Singapore (NUS) as a Research Fellow. Currently, I am a Senior Research Fellow and deputy head at ARL. For 5 years I also served as Manager for Operations at TMSI, supporting my then Director to manage both finance and facilities.

My work at ARL: You can read all about my research at ARL from the website But, I would like to share with you a couple of my achievements, which I am proud of. One of them is the project ROMANIS (Remotely Operated Mobile Ambient Noise Imaging System) initiated by Dr. John Potter when he was the head of ARL. This is a broadband acoustic camera, which uses snapping shrimp noise for imaging underwater objects. It was a big challenge building ROMANIS considering we started to work on the system in 1998 (or even before) and when there was no off the shelf technology available to build a Gigabit/sec data acquisition system. Nevertheless, we built a custom solution and the first prototype in 2003. In 2009 we rebuilt the whole system based on Gigabit Ethernet and currently we have a system that can stream data at 1.6Gbps from 508 sensors and form images in real-time. ROMANIS won the Defence Technology Prize, a prestigious award instituted by the Ministry of Defence, Singapore, in 2004 for the best engineering project. See a recent publication related to this project in JOE, January 2016 issue.

The second project that needs mention is the development of a Digital Thin Line Array (DTLA) system, specifically developed for underwater research using small autonomous underwater vehicles. The array, 15 to 20mm in diameter with 12 to 24 acoustic channels has found itself a place on many AUV platforms for research purposes. These include Ocean Explorer, from CMRE, Italy, SEACAT from Atlas Electronik, Germany, STARFish from ARL, Singapore, and lately REMUS 100 from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA. It was destined to make a trip to the Arctic this year for a collaborative experiment with SIO, San Diego, California, for measuring ice calving noise. Unfortunately, the trip was postponed and the array is now expected to take a dip in the cold waters of the Arctic next summer.

A view of the deck of R/V SHARP during Seabed Characterisation Experiment (SBCEX) 2017
at the New England Mud Patch.

I have been part of many research cruises, some of them on naval vessels prior to coming to Singapore. After coming to Singapore, I have been ‘fortunate’ to be part of three overseas cruises, viz., AsiaEx in 2001 in the South China Sea, TREX-13 in 2013 off the Florida Coast and SBCEX in 2017 at the New England Mud Patch. Each of these cruises lasted between 10 to 15 days and was exciting in different ways. This was a great opportunity for me to work together with international scientists from different areas of acoustic and oceanographic research and learn from them. The SBCEX 2017 cruise was more challenging as we had to work at sub-zero temperature (see figure) and under stormy conditions (30-35 knots wind). Out of the 15 days at sea we could deploy our AUV-array system only on the last day and collect data for a couple of hours. On two occasions we had to make our way back to the WHOI dock due to severe weather conditions.

Me and IEEE OES: I have been a member of IEEE for 21 years, becoming a senior member in 2004. The Singapore OES Chapter was started in 2002 and I was among the first to serve the committee. I served the chapter in various capacities such as its treasurer, Chair, etc., and continue to engage myself in an advisory role. In 2006, when Singapore hosted the first OCEANS conference, I was assigned the role of Finance Chair. Under my initiative the local chapter gave shape to an annual industrial workshop, a half-day event, where the industry representatives were given a venue to showcase their product and capabilities to the researchers. This unique event has been a successful one so far and helped to build a closer relationship with the Chapter and the local industry. In 2013, our chapter organized the first AUV international student competition and I served as vice-chair and also as chair for sponsorship. In 2014, I also served as the chair for this event. Annually, I help to generate money to the tune of $35-40K to run this event and that made me the ‘default’ chair for sponsorship until the 2019 event. In addition, I help to organize a workshop as part of this event where speakers who are experts in the field of marine robotics deliver lectures and participate in panel discussions with students. In 2014, I got an opportunity to be part of the Offshore Technology Asia (OTC Asia) conference. I have been serving on the Technical Programme sub-committee as a member, co-Chair and Chair respectively in the years 2014, 2016 and 2018. Apart from organizing technical sessions, I was also leading the organization of special and panel sessions on behalf of the IEEE OES with great support from Mr. Bill Kirkwood. I got nominated to the IEEE OES AdCom in 2015 and served for a year (Thanks to Dr. Rene Garello). In 2017 I got elected as an AdCom member to serve the society from 2018-2020. This would not have been possible without the encouragement from many senior IEEE OES colleagues. I must thank specifically Mr. Jerry Carrol, Dr. Mal Heron and Mr. Bob Wernli for encouraging me to run for the AdCom when I contested and lost for 4 times. Yet another responsibility that I have undertaken is to run the OCEANS 2020 Singapore conference successfully, and I believe that with support from a very strong and dedicated LOC this will be achieved. My special thanks to Dr. Sandy Williams, VP, Conference Development, IEEE OES, who has been an inspiration and advisor at many stages.

My hobbies: I love many sports activities and have tried my hands at Cricket, Shuttle Badminton and Table Tennis. Due to the onset of sciatic pain in recent years, I had to give up most of the sports activities including weekend running. I go for occasional brisk walks around the parks and started to spend most of my leisure time now cooking Kerala food. On average, I spent two to three hours each day in the kitchen cooking for me and my family. Otherwise, IEEE OES and other scientific volunteer work keeps me busy. I also like to get together with friends over a drink and enjoy some evenings.

My family: This article is about me, but it may not be complete without mentioning something about my family. Maya (Google the meaning), my wife, holds a Masters in Electrical Engineering and is currently a senior lecturer in one of the Polytechnics in Singapore. We have two sons, Gautam and Govind. Gautam is a PhD student at Caltech, USA, having completed his BS and MS in physics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, India. Govind is currently pursuing a double degree in mathematics and computer science at the National University of Singapore. We have travelled together to many parts of the world, exploring those locations and enjoying the food and culture there.

If you still wish to know more about me, you can find me at some of the forthcoming OCEANS conference events. I will probably be busy manning the Singapore booth promoting the OCEANS 2020 Singapore conference, so look for me there. Let me know if you need a shot of ‘Singapore Sling’ when you visit the booth.