The MIT Research Vault: 7 Wireless Technologies Of The Future4:00 PM EST Tue. Oct. 16, 2012
If the technology industry moves at the speed of light, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology doesn't seem to have any trouble keeping up.
With a new research lab dedicated specifically to the development of next-gen wireless and mobile technologies, the Cambridge, Mass.-based university has a few new solutions up its sleeve that will ultimately make our lives easier. Whether it's paving the way for a new generation of cars that will essentially drive themselves, or finding new ways to accommodate today's increasingly smartphone-dependent world, MIT's got you covered.
Here's a sneak peek at some of the solutions being explored at one of the U.S.' most prestigious technology hubs.
Batteries may soon become a thing of the past if MIT Professor Anantha Chandrakasan has his way.
Speaking at the inauguration event for Wireless@MIT, the university's new research lab dedicated to the development of new wireless and mobile technologies, Chandrakasan highlighted his progress creating body-worn wireless sensor nodes that are powered not by batteries, but by body heat being generated by the wearer.
One of several "energy-harvesting systems" being explored at MIT, the idea is that these kinds self-powering systems will reduce our overall power consumption and potentially eliminate the need for batteries all together. Chandrakasan's wireless sensor nodes, in particular, could ultimately be used as either wireless communication units or as minimonitoring systems for biomedical information like blood sugar levels and heart rates.
Imagine if you could know a traffic light is about to turn red before it actually does? Well, thanks to MIT, that idea's not so far-fetched.
SignalGuru, a new app developed by MIT Professor Li-Shiuan Peh, alerts drivers via their smartphones when upcoming traffic signals are about to change. The benefits, according to Peh, are not only that drivers will have the ability to dodge red lights ahead time by seeking alternative routes, but that fuel consumption and costs will drastically be slashed. The app suggests the speed at which drivers should drive in order to avoid complete stops at red lights that are just about to turn green, allowing drivers to use far less fuel than stopping entirely and revving up again.
SignalGuru has been tested in both Cambridge, Mass., and Singapore, and has already been shown to yield a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption.
There's nothing worse than already running late and having to compete with hundreds of other people for that last spot on the subway car. That's why CountMe!, a new crowd-counting app that's in the works at MIT, could eventually become on the most frequented apps on your smartphone.
Developed by MIT Professor Li-Shiuan Peh (pictured), CountMe! provides an estimation of how many people are in a particular location by gauging audio levels through smartphones' built-in microphones. Peh noted that the app could become especially useful for transportation companies and event planners. Taxi drives, for instance, could identify places in cities where demand may be particularly high, while event planners could use the app to better estimate how many attendees they have on hand.
The app is being designed to work in both indoor and outdoor locations, and it has been tested on more than 25 smartphones with a 90 percent accuracy rate.
With over five billion mobile phones tapping into cellular networks around the world, bandwidth is getting tight. So to free up some space, MIT is suggesting Distributed Programming Layer Over Mobile Agents (DIPLOMA), a type of programming that would enable mobile phones to process data locally, rather than ship information across cellular networks to be processed in a server.
MIT Professor Li-Shiuan Peh explained that DIPLOMA essentially allows smartphones to share memory with other nearby smartphones, which are connected through short-range radio frequencies, so that they have enough compute performance to process information locally, rather than having to send data across the network. In other words, it's a way to apply the shared memory model of parallel computing to mobile computing.
DIPLOMA has been tested on 10 Android phones, with MIT finding that those phones had response times nearly ten times faster than phones leveraging the traditional client-to-server setup.
Medical embedded devices, like pacemakers, allow doctors to remotely monitor a patient's health. But like most computing devices, these medical implants are susceptible to attack. Hackers could potentially tap into the devices to gauge a person's health or, worse yet, deliver unauthorized medical attention, such as electric shocks.
New embedded devices can be encrypted to prevent this -- but what about the more than 300,000 people in the U.S. alone already relying them? Should they have to re-undergo surgery to make sure they're safe?
Not according to Shyam Gollakota, a former MIT grad and assistant professor at the University of Washington. Gollakota has discovered the Shield, a wearable device (it looks almost like a necklace) that can protect medical implants from attacks without requiring modification to the implant itself. It works by using a novel radio design that allows it to jam the embedded device's messages so that unauthorized users can't decode them, while the doctors and patients still can.
The concept of using technology to track how safely we drive isn't exactly new. Several insurance companies offer sensors that users can attach to their cars as part of usage-based insurance model, whereby drivers are rewarded with cash if the insurance company is pleased with their performance.
But why not embed this tracking capability into a device we all know, love and already have -- our smartphones -- to encourage safe driving on an even larger, more widespread scale? That's the idea of MIT Professor Hari Balakrishnan, who is exploring smartphone telematics as a means to incent drivers to play it safe.
Balakrishnan is testing an app that can be downloaded to smartphones to essentially serve the same purpose of those little sensors. Not only has the app shown a 97 percent accuracy rate, but it works so efficiently that it promises not to suck the life out of your phone. If all goes as plan, it could be "the key to getting telematics out at a pretty large scale," he said.
MIT PhD student Sawrun Kumar may not have invented the concept of autonomous cars, but he is working on a way to make them better.
As one of the lead developers of a new technology called CarSpeak, Kumar is ensuring that autonomous cars -- or cars that can essentially drive themselves -- have a broad-enough line of vision to truly be a safe means of transportation for human passengers. With CarSpeak, these cars-of-the-future will be able to "see" a wider, 3-D view, so they can identify blind spots and other obstacles just like a human driver would.
Though it may sound like something straight out of the Jetsons, autonomous cars aren't actually that far away -- Google has already started testing one of its own, and General Motors expects them to be on the roads as soon as 2020.