Mobile computing gets academic

GCN Insider

It's a sign of having arrived when a new technology gets its own academic discipline. It happened more than 25 years ago for computer science. And some schools launched certificate programs in geospatial studies a couple of years ago.

Now Carnegie Mellon University is launching a new Mobility Research Center at its Silicon Valley site that will be a locus of research and teaching focused on mobile computing.

'There are billions of cell phone users all around the world, and their introduction to the use of computation and the Internet is going to be through use of this handheld platform, not through their desktop or laptop computers,' James Morris, professor of computer science and dean of Carnegie Mellon West, told GCN.

'The United States needs to have that perspective as we look at a global market for computing devices on the Internet.'

The multidisciplinary program will focus on context-aware applications and services, serendipitous collaboration and rich semantic information to enable novel data and media management, visualization and access.

'We have probably 30 faculty members who work in various areas ' anything from antenna design [to] anthropology and psychology ' and we're getting a lot of these people together into teams to perform research to look at the way people are going to use mobile devices in the future,' Morris said.

He said the move is at least in part to fill a vacuum left by wireless carriers. Those carriers have tightly controlled the development of devices and applications but haven't moved fast enough to bring out new technologies.

'Everyone saw the deal that Steve Jobs crafted with AT&T for the iPhone,' Morris said. 'Suddenly people are saying, 'Hey, you know, maybe the wireless carriers do not completely control this thing.' ' 'For many years, people in this country have'felt hamstrung by the business model the wireless carriers imposed upon the cell phone business,' Morris said.

'That is changing.'

Morris said two factors have dramatically changed the future of information technology. The first is the overwhelming adoption of handheld devices, which are rapidly becoming powerful computing devices. The second is the amount of computing being moved onto the Internet.

'Five years ago, I was a laptop-centric person,' Morris said. 'I kept all of my information on my laptop, including five years worth of e-mail and all my documents.

When I started using Google Mail and Google documents, suddenly it all shifted. Now all of my information is somewhere inside the network. And I'm using my devices as a thin client. I can log in from anywhere.'

Morris said the new research center ' which has some seed money from Nokia, Motorola, SAP and others ' is expected to get under way in the fall with doctoral students and new master's degree courses.

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