May 13, 2008

MIT Students Study Open Cell Phone Systems

When Massachusetts Industry of Technology professor Hal Abelson assigned his computer science students to design a software program for cell phones capable of using Android, Google Inc's forthcoming mobile OS, they may have revealed what cell phones of the future will be able to do.

If the brainstorms of these MIT students are any indication, phones will soon challenge the Internet as a source of innovation.

The rules of the project were that students had three months to create software using Android, and the software had to have a solid business plan with a probable way of earning profit.

Many of the students focused on the capabilities of an open mobile system like Android based on location.

Among projects conducted by the students, one called GeoLife allowed users to create alarms and reminders based on their physical location. For instance, reminders would be set off if the mobile user passed a place of interest that had been added to their to-do list.

Another project called Locale lets users configure their phones to automatically adjust their settings, such as ring tone volume, when the devices detect themselves in certain zones.

Because Android hasn't been released on phones yet, students used a PC program that mimics Android on a phone's operation.

Such customization would have seemed like a stretch until recently, when the idea began to take hold that cell phones should be as open to new programs as PCs are to Web sites.

Another group, the LiMo Foundation, is also backing open-source phones. Apple Inc. has also begun working to allow developers to create third-party applications for its iPhones.

"This class is a glimpse of the future, and what's nice, the not-so-distant future," Professor Abelson said during the class project presentation.

Rich Miner, who's overseeing Android for Google was present at the meeting. He said the work presented by students was generally as good as anything other developers are attempting to accomplish.

The Locale group won $25,000 and will go on to the finals of a $10 million Android developers challenge Google is running.

Abelson said they all would get an "A."


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