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Indian EE's journey to DSP magic world

Posted: 13 Jan 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:dsp? ceo? interview? management? music?

Kay Das: "Technology must be a servant to the society and not the reverse."

Technology must be a servant to society and not the reverse - this is what Kay Das envisions for the future. Being able to participate in huge leaps in technology for the past four decades, more specifically in the magical world of DSP, Das believes there are no real technology roadblocks to its progression. If there is truth to Shakespeare's "the world's a stage," Das would like to see himself as an actor in a play about Moore's Law, which continues to regenerate itself.

In 1978, Das first developed an audio mixing system with the main task of converting an analog product to an all-digital one. The selling price was $400,000. Today, similar processing is seen, but with tweaked size and reduced cost. Realizing the exponential growth in technology, Das thinks that the successes he had in the past are not enough to complete the greater role he has for the future. "My greatest achievement is yet to come!" Das exclaims.

Juggling two significant positions in STMicroelectronics, Das views his dual responsibilities as complementary, not overlapping.

More than being the R&D director for Asia-Pacific, Das is also the deputy general manager tasked to maintain technical focus and operational efficiency for business growth of ST's cellular terminals division in the region.

Joining ST as R&D director in 1995 to set up the company's R&D center in Singapore, Das' initial focus was to explore the development of DSPs in applications like multimedia audio and video. Armed with his experience in RCA/General Electric, having developed three generations of VLSI DSPs for AEGIS defense radar systems built for the U.S. Navy, Das is pursuing an equally significant feat for ST.

"It has been an exhilarating and challenging time. I never had a dull day," Das recalls his first few months with ST. "With growing emphasis on regional standards and business growth, I have extended my task to wireless and wireline business segments, encompassing complete solutions for 3G mobile and IP phone including signal processing, real-time software protocols and low-power SoCs."

"The Asia-Pacific market is more dynamic than in Europe. With particular regard for digital cellular, the market penetration in China is only 16 percent with the 2G spectrum already getting saturated in the dense inner cities," Das remarks. "In Europe, with almost 70 percent market penetration, there's still good capacity left in the 2G spectrum. That, coupled with the fact that many European operators are cash-strapped due to the expensive auctioning of the 3G spectrum, leads me to believe that the first 3G markets will actually develop in the Asia-Pacific, following Japan."

Das was also instrumental in the development of a professional quality digital audio-mixing desk liaising with the BBC, the first in the world. He attributes his success to a combination of a few building blocks during the late 1970s that made it possible to conceive a completely digital mixing system.

The product was indeed ahead of its time, so it generated limited commercial success, though today, 25 years later, such digital-audio systems abound for about a fiftieth of the cost due to VLSI improvements. What Das began in digital audio systems has indeed "revolutionized the music industry and brought music production to the realms of consumers."

Entry ticket

Das knew early on what he wanted. His passion for engineering dates back to his teenage years. "I remember being in a physics lab doing an experiment on characterizing a triode valve and deciding that I wanted to be an EE working with the physics of electrons and their movement," Das recalls. "I wouldn't settle for anything other than being an electronics engineer."

A double-degree holder in mathematics and electronics engineering, Das started his career with Philips India in the late 1960s. Later on, Das moved to the Britain to seek new opportunities. It was also during this time that he completed his master's degree in electronics systems design at the Cranfield Institute of Technology.

In the 1980s, he made his way to the United States and during the early 1990s, he went to Singapore to become one of the founding members of the Institute of Microelectronics, focusing on GSM cellular systems.

Currently based in Singapore, Das misses his hometown India, which he regards as a land with "good potential and excellent educational system." And although he has no plans to return to India yet, Das believes that India is eager to make its mark in the software and related markets.

A music lover and a good guitarist, Das' initial career in audio has been the highest inspiration to his sons. His eldest son has set up his own music business in the United States. The other one has just started working in London and is also actively contributing to the growth of the audio and music industry.

Having contributed to the music industry with his early efforts in DSP, this Indian engineer in Singapore with an Italian wife, two sons born in Britain and a daughter born in the United States, believes that music is indeed universal and knows no boundaries. "National boundaries do not exist in my family either," Das says.

- Jerico Abila

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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