Lahiru Jayatilaka

CEO, Co-Founder, Red Lotus Technologies

“I was really interested in ‘how do I actually deploy this stuff into the world, how do I actually make this a product that people will use?’ I was also actively looking for resources in that regard. Having access to this kind of program and that kind of culture associated with SEAS definitely would’ve been valuable to me, something that I would’ve been interested in, having that community and having the option of that program.”

Lahiru laid the groundwork for Red Lotus Technologies, which develops visual feedback products for explosives detection, through his research in the SEAS Computer Science program. There, he learned the value of iterative design and early-phase user testing.

[My advisers] would essentially tell me ‘go out and meet these users, show them your research prototype.’ I’d come back, we’d assess the feedback, we’d improve it, then go out again—that whole iterated process of basically making quick changes to a prototype or a product, going and talking to users, and keeping those user types involved in the product design cycle.”

His advisers did much more than just encourage. Following graduation, Lahiru continued to work indepently with his undergrad advisers to advance his research and publish his thesis. By the time he was in graduate school at Stanford and meeting his eventual co-founder, his findings were picked up and funded by the United States Department of Defense.

“I spent a year as a researcher at SEAS basically building on my thesis conducting small real-world experiments, in fact part of that year I visited users who were training people to find landmines and IEDs and demonstrated prototypes. At the end of the study we wrote up the research work and sent it out to [contacts] in government defense who were interested in this kind of capability.”

The SEAS resources and faculty were instrumental in creating an environment where Lahiru was able to push the application of his research and learn the skills needed to rapidly  validate and iterate on his ideas. Still, he sees the opportunity to blend the world-class research-based education he received with practical business and organizational strategy.

“Even when I was doing research I was very interested in building some kind of business or organization that could help take this research all of the way because I was really interested in making an impact. I wanted to see my ideas materialize as products that help people.”