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One of the coolest things about working in Microsoft Research is the opportunity to see what bright students can do with cutting-edge technology. Project Hawaii is a perfect example. This project, which began in January 2010, offers students the opportunity to explore how the cloud can enhance our mobile devices, especially the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone. In Project Hawaii, we’ve provided students with tools, services, and equipment for creating their own cloud-enabled mobile applications. The current Project Hawaii platform consists of a Windows Phone 7 smartphone and several cloud services, including Relay, Rendezvous, Optical Character Recognition, Speech to Text, and Windows Azure for computation and data storage.
Some 300 students at 21 universities (see the list of schools) participated in the project earlier this year, building approximately 80 cloud-enhanced apps for the Windows Phone 7. Past Project Hawaii apps have ranged from MobiSafe, which alerts drivers when they have entered an area with a high risk of traffic accidents, to ReceiptManager, which provides one convenient location to consolidate and view all the digital receipts that are generated by the user’s mobile payment applications. Then there’s Flagged Down, an app that lets users search for and hail cabs in their vicinity.
Just imagine a scenario where MobiSafe alerts you—via a hands-free smartphone, of course—that you’re driving into an accident danger zone. You decide to park your car and, by using Flagged Down, you easily hail a nearby taxi, which takes you safely to your destination. You pay the driver with your debit card, and the amount is automatically added to your (unfortunately) growing stack of payments in the ReceiptManager.
Sound far-fetched? Well, so did GPS and robotic vacuum cleaners not too long ago. Really, there is no limit to the possible applications that these talented, motivated students can conceive.
Another Project Hawaii application has the potential to save lives by recording a heart patient’s EKG (electrocardiogram) and location and relaying these data to healthcare professionals via a web-based portal. Or maybe you’re a lonely zombie, pining away for another brain-chomping buddy. Fear not: a Project Hawaii game app will enable you to infect other players when they’re in physical proximity to you. Just think of the possibilities for a zombie mob-flash—or more seriously, the options for a variety of location-based games.
Professor Nilanjan Banerjee, whose programming paradigms class at the University of Arkansas developed the above-mentioned remote EKG monitoring app, exudes a level of enthusiasm that is characteristic of faculty members who are involved in Project Hawaii. “Hawaii is a platform that helps rapid development of fairly complex applications. With the help of cloud services that can be accessed through simple intuitive APIs, the time to developing a sophisticated application is reduced considerably,” he says. “This is especially important in a project-oriented course, where the system needs to be built and adequately tested within a two-three month time frame.”
“There are two ingredients that the Hawaii initiative provides that are key to the success of a mobile system or programming class,” continues Professor Banerjee. “First, for the instructor, it provides access to functional cloud services (and example source code) that he can use to demo cloud-enabled applications in class. Personally, I have found it very fruitful to demo services like the relay and speech-to-text in class and run my students through the client-side source code. Second, Hawaii provides us access to actual Windows Phones that students can play with—I have found that the interest of students is spiked when they work with real devices.”
Another of Professor Banerjee’s classes, “Hot Topics in Mobile and Pervasive Computing,” developed Traveltant (shorthand for travel consultant), a Windows Phone 7 application that combines data from Facebook, Bing, and Yelp to provide personalized planning and recommendation to users while traveling.
Several 2011 Project Hawaii apps will be demonstrated at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, which is in progress in Redmond, Washington, from July 18 to 20. One that we expect to generate great interest comes from Stanford University and was developed by a group of students in Professor Jay Borenstein’s Computer Science Innovation class who collaborated with Microsoft Research to create myscience, a platform that enables scientists to launch citizen-science projects instantly. By using this Windows Phone 7 experience, citizens can capture data through sensors on the phone and submit the data to various scientific studies.
According to Professor Borenstein, “Project Hawaii was a key piece in enabling the sensor data from the phone to reach the Azure cloud in a reliable and efficient manner. In this case, Project Hawaii aided the development of software for creating substantial scientific data sets that would otherwise have been impractical to assemble. The tools made it possible for a team of students to create a full-featured application serving two audiences—scientists and ordinary citizens with Windows phones—in less than five months.”
Like I said, one of the coolest things about working at Microsoft Research is seeing what creative young people can do with technology. Oh, and the free soda—that’s pretty cool, too.
—Arjmand Samuel, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections