Computer scientists win a major grant to network mobile devices in the cloud

September 15, 2014

A team of computer scientists at NJIT has won a multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation to come up with a platform that would allow mobile devices to interact with each other with help from the cloud. The technology they are developing is designed to support collaborative applications in areas such as healthcare, safety, and social interaction, potentially benefiting millions of users.

The proposed mobile cloud computing platform would not only stimulate the creation of groundbreaking applications, it would also leverage the cloud to expand the processing power, network bandwidth, storage space, and battery life of individual devices.

"Our goal is to make smart phones smarter," says Cristian Borcea, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Computer Science, who is the grant's principal investigator.

By networking , a parent looking for a child lost in a crowd could conduct real-time searches of cell phone photos taken by people in the area, which are tagged with GPS location and time. The parent could send a query to find the location and time of the photos that include the lost child. To hasten the search and save battery power on individual phones, the image recognition processing would be done in the cloud.

With the expansion of sensing power contained in mobile devices, health officials could also use cloud-enabled networking to detect disease outbreaks in real time, allowing them to move quickly and precisely to contain the spread of an epidemic.

Over the next three years, Borcea and three colleagues from the Department of Computer Science will create a mobile phone avatar, a software surrogate of the phone that would live in the cloud and synchronize with the phone, write a program that permits devices to interact, and figure out ways to improve application functionality and performance in the cloud.

"There are mobile-device clones in the cloud, but as yet no architecture that accommodates distributed computing," Borcea says. "The cloud was designed to support enterprises, not mobile devices. If our technology is successful, the number of applications could expand dramatically and so we will also be thinking about how the structure of the cloud would have to change to support this distributed mobile computing."

Xiaoning Ding, an assistant professor of computer science and one of Borcea's collaborators, is working on ensuring application functionality and performance in the cloud, while researching ways to improve the speed of applications and programs in the cloud through novel load balancing and scheduling algorithms.

Reza Curtmola, an associate professor of computer science who is also a collaborator, is an expert in data security and privacy, which are fundamental to the success of any new cloud-based endeavor. While it is the responsibility of the federal government to develop regulations to protect the growing stream of data and computation migrating to the cloud, he is researching ways to bring safeguards, accountability, and improvements in functionality to a system in transition.

"While we want to move data to the cloud and use it effectively there, we need to protect its privacy," Borcea notes.

Narain Gehani, professor of , will leverage his strong expertise in software and system-building to work with Borcea on the design and implementation of the phone avatars and the whole software platform as well, as with Ding on mobile data management.

Sustainability and reliability are also key concerns as the number of proliferates. Calling battery capacity "the main limitation of a cell phone," Borcea notes that programs running in the cloud run faster and use less energy. Additionally, avatars are available at all times, even when their mobile devices are offline because of poor connectivity or simply turned off.

Borcea, who in 2010 offered one of the first college courses in the nation on cloud computing, is teaching a graduate course this semester on mobile cloud computing.

"I am asking my students to think about this question: what is the future of mobile cloud computing?" he says. "In this class, they will be exploring ideas for mobile , including new apps and services."

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