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The people behind SMART M3S: Professor Hamsa Balakrishnan, Principal Investigator

Fueled by a lifelong passion for math and physics, Hamsa Balakrishnan pursued a career in engineering. Fast forward to today, Professor Hamsa is a Principal Investigator at the Mens, Manus, and Machina Interdisciplinary Research Group (M3S IRG) at SMART and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Launched in 2023, M3S’ research addresses critical questions concerning the design of technology, the development of human skills, and the adaptation of institutions and social structures to effectively navigate the transformative impact of AI, automation, and robotics. By exploring the intricate interplay between human capabilities, emerging technologies, and societal structures, M3S seeks to drive scientific, societal, and commercial impact that will pave the way for the design of inclusive, resilient, and innovative solutions that empower individuals, institutions, and cities in Singapore and beyond.


Dive deeper as Hamsa shares her personal motivations and how the innovative research at M3S aims to revolutionise transportation and create a positive societal impact.

Hamsa Balakrishnan, M3S Principal Investigator


What do you do at SMART M3S?


I am currently a Principal Investigator for the T7 workstream at M3S: Human Workers and Resource Allocation Optimisation. This project investigates the design of human-machine systems for scheduling and allocating valuable resources in ways that accommodate and optimise the needs and capabilities of both humans and machines. It uses the stand allocation process at Changi Airport as a paradigm for a broad set of other potential application contexts. My research focuses on the interface of air transportation systems and how we can transform their operations using computing technologies.


How did you first become interested in your field of work, and what motivated you to pursue it as a career then?


I became interested in math and physics in high school, and engineering was a natural choice of career for me. And taking a step further, aerospace engineering is as high-tech as one can get!


What is the biggest motivation that keeps you going at work now, especially during the hard/challenging times? 


I find that it is easier for me to stay motivated when I am interested in the underlying problems that we are tackling. Hence, I try to work only on research problems that I am interested in! I have also realised over time that roadblocks or obstacles (even challenges and failures) are an inevitable part of research; this realisation helps me be more resilient when things are not working out as well as I had hoped.


How does your work benefit the society/research communities?


Transportation is an integral part of society, and air transportation, in particular, is undergoing a transformation from Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning and other computing technologies. My work at M3S largely aims to ensure that we can leverage these technologies to provide people with efficient, safe, and equitable access to transportation.


Could you share any highlights or important projects/milestones that you have worked on or achieved at SMART M3S? 


We are just about to complete the first year of the M3S IRG. I am excited about the potential to both make scientific contributions and deliver real-world impact with this project.


Balancing work and personal life can be challenging, what are your current hobbies/guilty pleasures to relax and recharge?


In my free time, I enjoy solving crosswords and other word games or find myself catching up on various TV series.


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