The son of the founder of Bose Corp., sound engineer Amar Bose, Vanu Bose didn’t inherit his father’s company: the majority of the company stock was given to MIT, where Amar taught for 45 years and from which Vanu graduated (BS 1987, MS 1994, PhD 1999). Vanu started his own company, formed with his given name, Vanu Inc., to ensure there was no confusion with his father’s firm. Vanu Inc. commercialized the technology Vanu Bose made practical during his graduate studies: software-defined radio. Rather than use hardware-based mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, and such, SDR uses software for signal processing tasks so that as (for instance) cellular phone radio technology evolves, phone companies don’t have to throw away the tower-based radio systems and buy new ones to adapt to the new technology: they just need to reprogram the SDR systems. Such radios have the capacity to handle calls and mobile data requirements of differing types at the same time, allowing several transmitters to transmit from the same location and on the same frequency with very little interference, and the interference that remains is corrected by other software, so calls are clear and data error-free. Better yet, thanks to evolving software, the cell towers can not only support new-tech phones, but also continue to support older phones at the same time.
While the SDR concepts go back to the 1970s, Bose’s implementation was the first to be certified by the Federal Communications Commission for commercial use, in 2004. Bose’s systems also use far less electricity, so they could be powered by solar panels — ideal for developing countries, rural areas without easy access to power, and emergency deployment. Vanu Inc.’s base station weighs less than 10 kg., and needs less than 75 watts of power, rather than the 2000-3000 watts used by traditional cellular base stations, so the box, antennas, and power panels can be mounted on a simple wooden pole, rather than an expensive cell tower — and it only costs $5,000, making it affordable for even tiny villages. An extra panel can even provide charging for users’ cell phones. “So now, you can charge your cell phone, you can use cellular, and you can access the Internet all from this one little kiosk in the middle of the village,” Bose said in a 2015 interview. After this year’s Irma and Maria hurricane devastation, Vanu deployed more than 40 of its cellular base stations to bring cell phone and Internet service back to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — for free — to help survivors get back into contact with their families. When people inquired how to donate to help with the effort, the company asked instead that they donate to All Hands Volunteers, which is rebuilding the schools destroyed in the region, and the Disaster Immediate Response Team, which performed search and rescue operations in the islands. “The ‘Bose’ name has long been synonymous with brilliance, humility, leadership, and integrity,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “Through his work to use cellular technology to connect the unconnected — most recently, in Puerto Rico — Vanu embodied the very best of the MIT community, advancing the Institute’s vision for a better world.” Vanu Bose died November 11 from a pulmonary embolism. He was 52.