We'll chat about mobile computing at our next Brain Gain session. Our guests are:
What is mobile computing?
Apologies to all of you who work in the industry but we need to take an axe to some terms and topics in order to get something digestible we can work with. For the purposes of our chat:
- Wireless is the ability to set up untethered, temporary computing environments in your choice of locations. Wireless = "cut the cord". AKA "Fixed wireless".
- Mobile denotes portable but also, for our purposes, compact. These are not necessarily wireless -- the majority of mobile computing involves devices that are first synchronized and then transported (but not updated via wireless connection once ported) -- iPod, Palm, etc.
- Mobile Wireless -- the intersection of the two. A subset of wireless. Handheld devices that actually communicate wirelessly -- cell phones, Treo, etc.
Platforms & protocols
We are NOT interested in chatting too much about communications protocols, etc. Suffice it to say that there are various flavors such as fixed wireless standards (802.11b -- limited range, high bandwidth), device-to-device standards ( BlueTooth -- very short range, mid-bandwidth), and mobile telephony/data standards ("cell tower" standards like GSM, CDMA, TDMA, and newer "3G" protocols, etc. -- long range, mid-bandwidth). While practical applications are definitely dependent upon communication protocols and platforms, we should assume that figuring out protocols is secondary to brainstorming solid educational applications.
I think perhaps bandwidth limitations will be the area where platforms come into the discussion. To give a sense of scope, the hi ghest 3G bandwidth is 2 megabits/second, whereas the l owest 802.11 "B" bandwidth is 11 megabits/second ("G" is 52 megabits). In other words, fixed wireless systems afford far greater bandwidth than current mobile networks. This puts significant design and performance constraints on mobile wireless applications.
Examples of commercial mobile applications
Before brainstorming educational applications we thought it would be helpful to give some quick overviews of existing commercial applications to give a sense of what is possible, what the challenges are, etc. First Stefan will give an overview of uLocate's services including their MapQuest Find Me mobile phone application.
- Find Me -- J2ME application (Java Platform, Micro Edition) -- downsized version of core Java APIs specifically designed for phones and other small application platforms.
- This is an example of a l ocation-based service -- applications that benefit from having an inherent knowledge of your location (which in this case is acquired from your phone's internal GPS chip)
- Provides mobile user the ability to:
- View their location on an interactive map (zoom capabilities, etc.)
- Do a POI (point of interest, or localized) search based on their current location
- Get driving directions between their current location and another location
- Save locations into a stored address book for future reference
- Share locations with another user -- send invitation to another Find Me user so you can see location of others on the map
- uLocate has other offerings as well. They've done server-side development, like the engine and mapping software to drive globalpetfinder.com -- uses a dog collar with a wireless and a GPS embedded chip -- firmware reports fixes into server center every 24 hours. Owner can define a "geo-fence" for animal, and then the collar starts communicating if animal leaves the fence (maximizing battery life and minimizing server calls, etc). They've also done fleet management work that allows a central dispatcher to pinpoint the locations of drivers.
- Services like this will become more and more prevalent -- Congress had mandated that a ll new cell phones by 2005 have to be locatable within a certain radius. Carriers can decide whether to do this using network-based (carriers use their own towers to ping you and time the distance of the return ping) or handset-based (phone has GPS chip in it) technologies.
Next Giuseppe will give an overview of his iShop utility:
- iShop -- Flash Lite app. Originally built in Flash for Pocket PC.
- Like a portable Amazon.com kiosk that you can use to check products -- it provides a mobile presentation layer for Amazon technology.
- The use case - go into brick & mortar store, find a product you like, then use your cell phone running iShop to:
- Validate prices vs. Amazon (can enter barcode or browse simple subset of Amazon categories and then enter model number)
- Read Amazon product reviews
- See compatible items ("Portable amazon kiosk") -- much faster User experience than browsing web page from mobile device. Can have email sent to you so you can buy alternative at home.
- Have an email sent to you with the product info via SMS (text messaging)
- Application restricts the number of search results to something manageable for mobile
- Available for download from Macromedia Developer Center
Google recently purchased Dodgeball. This site allows users to use their mobile phones to:
- Send the service a text messsage with their location so the service can text message their contacts
- Send the service your location so the service can alert you if contacts are nearby
- Be notified if somebody who has a "crush" on you is nearby
- Send venue names to the service and they will reply with addresses
- From the New Yorker: When Dodgeball users "check in" at a given locale by sending out a text message, it goes to all their preselected friends, as well as any friends of friends within a ten-block radius. A photo is sent along with the alert-which helps with identifying near strangers. Introductions are made, beer is poured, and then hookups can occur-casually, and in a low-pressure environment, all under the guise of knowing someone in common. It's Friendster, except in real time and in the real world.
And researchers at MIT's Human Dynamics Group have created Serendipity, a similar service that uses Bluetooth short-range wireless signals. A summary on MIT's site states: "Think of it as each person having a 16-foot bubble around them, blinking out a unique ID...When two or more people running Serendipity come into the same 'bubble,' their IDs are sent to our server, which looks for their profiles. If there's a match, each gets the other's name, thumbnail photo and common interests on his or her cell phone. Then it's only a matter of introductions."
Educational applications for mobile technologies
MIT is working on Augmented Reality simulations as part of their Teacher Education Program. Environmental Detectives, for example, allows students to play the role of environmental engineers confronting a toxic chemical spill crisis on campus. Mobile computing allows them to create "hybrid realities", mixing virtual and real spaces. Their simulations use GPS outdoors and some switch to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or RFID indoors. From the MIT site: "The goal of the game is to locate the source of the spill, identify the responsible party, design a remediation plan, and brief the president of the University on any health and legal risks so that he will be prepared for a meeting with the EPA – all within two hours... The spread of the toxin is simulated on a location-aware Pocket PC, which functions as a tool which students can use to investigate the toxic spill. Each Pocket PC is equipped with a GPS device, which allows players to sample chemical concentrations in the groundwater depending on their location. Players are given three reusable drilling apparatuses which they can use to drill for water samples. After drilling for a sample, players must wait three minutes for the sample to return, meaning that students can only take three samples at a time, and are forced to develop sampling strategies in order to optimize the amount of ground that they can cover in limited time."
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