Could you imagine leading the innovative efforts for one of the world's most prominent and well-known companies?
Well, a Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech alumnus has accomplished precisely that.
After 22 years of learning and innovation, Steven Bathiche, EE '97, returned to Blacksburg on Friday, April 19, 2019, to present a seminar entitled the "Disruptive Evolution of Computers through New Interactive Technologies."
Bathiche graduated from the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in 1997. Currently, he leads product innovation and applied research for all Microsoft Hardware. He was also named a Microsoft Technical Fellow in 2017, an honor bestowed to only 20 people throughout the company's illustrious history.
"I help develop new technologies holistically from hardware to software to services. Essentially, I run a hybrid research group made up of many different disciplines ranging from computer vision, auto signal processing, materials science, optics, display technology, electrical and mechanical engineering. We fuse all those disciplines together to solve problems in a holistic way to create better experiences and solutions for people."
Bathiche has been successful in academia as well as industry, but his affinity for innovation took new life during his time in Blacksburg. "I was always interested in robotics in high school, but I got into Biology and Robotics at Tech and the interface between a living organism and a machine." Dr. Raymond Dessey, professor emeritus of chemistry, was his mentor and helped Bathiche cultivate a new understanding of these fields through taking these seemingly distinct fields and "putting them together."
Although his mentor was in another department, ECE played a prominent role in his development as an engineer. The coursework he credits with making the biggest impact on his career are digital logic, microprocessor, and capstone project classes. However, his favorite ECE course was computer architecture.
In 1996 while enrolled at Virginia Tech, Bathiche invented the Sidewinder Freestyle Pro, a gamepad sold by Microsoft. When asked about his motivation for developing this product, he said, "I was given a vague problem when I joined the hardware group as an intern. 3D gaming was a hot, up-and-coming field and we had controllers that were limited." He developed and tested the product and within six months it became a reality.
His next big innovation came six years later through the development of the Microsoft Surface Table. "Surface Table is one of the most important things I've done with the company. Microsoft achieved the dream of putting one on every desk. However, I realized it wasn't about the desk, it was about the 'rest of the room'. I had a vision that someday computers would become a type of building material and that someday all surfaces would become interactive. Surface Table became a social computing device. It was about bringing people together and interacting with each other."
However, what is likely his most prominent achievement to date is the development of the Microsoft Surface family of products. However, an achievement he holds in similarly high esteem is the optical bonding for Surface. "Figuring out how to bond the cover glass that protects the device to the tablet itself. It had been done for cell phones, but never for tablets. We were pushing that forward and were the first to do that."
He is also quite fond of the architecture developed for Surface Hub 2. "I wanted to create a modular architecture. The computer itself was detachable as well as the screen and camera so you can upgrade those things. It's also designed to be tileable in order to create an infinite canvas. I'm pretty proud of that."
Throughout a career of academic excellence and industrial achievement, Bathiche always remembered where he came from. "I'm excited. It's cool to come back, it's incredible to see the campus and some of the professors that are still around."
When asked if he had any advice he could give to the prospective ECE student, Bathiche commented, "Question all assumptions. Be brave and daring enough to imagine something different."
Bathiche continued, "School can have such an impact on how you think for the rest of your life. It's such a time to take it seriously and an opportunity to learn as much as possible. You don't have this opportunity again really. Life happens, so now is the time to do it. It can set you up for decades."
Written by Greg Atkins