MIT's newest research center to focus on mobile technologies

Wireless@MIT aims to take the lead in next-generation wireless networks and mobile computing

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is aiming for a leadership position in mobile technology with the launch on Thursday of its latest research center, Wireless@MIT.

Also known more formally as the MIT Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing, the new organization pulls together more than a dozen MIT professors and their research groups to work on next-generation wireless networks and mobile computing.

The work done at the center is designed to make an impact on technology users: Wireless@MIT trumpets a "strong industrial partnership" with Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Telefonica, Amazon, STMicroelectronics and MediaTek -- and says it aims to influence standards and products.

Among the biggest challenges facing mobile technology today -- and which the center aims to address -- are the spectrum crunch and the massive scale created by a burgeoning population of mobile devices, said Hari Balakrishnan, the center's co-director, at a launch event at MIT in Cambridge. Another problem is that the Internet was designed in a world that was largely static; "mobility is an afterthought," he said.

One of the center's first projects will be a prototype wireless network deployed campus-wide at MIT. The plan is for the network to provide functional network service to users while also serving to demonstrate innovations developed by center researchers.

Co-director Dina Katabi won recognition earlier this year (along with colleagues Haitham Hassanieh, Piotr Indyk, and Eric Price) for work on a speeded-up Fourier transform, which revs up this commonly used signal processing algorithm by a factor of ten and allows streams of data to be processed more quickly.

At the center's launch on Thursday, Katabi emphasized the holistic approach that the multidisciplinary organization will take to bringing mobile technologies forward. Currently, each of the components that make up mobile systems were designed separately; "each on its own is good, but the system is suboptimal," she said. For example, video codecs now in use were designed for static use in DVDs and CDs, but mobile channels introduce errors and packet loss -- "so of course the video is going to glitch and stall." A better approach, she said, is to take a holistic view and optimize the whole system.

Research at Wireless@MIT is currently focused on four areas: spectrum and connectivity, mobile applications, security and privacy, and low-power systems. The center today launched a website detailing the projects that are now ongoing under its umbrella.

Many of the projects under way are solving today's problems: for example, Katabi presented MegaMIMO, which scales wireless capacity by allowing multiple individual senders of data to transmit concurrently to multiple receivers on the same band.

But others are meeting needs still some years in the future. CarSpeak is billed as a communication system for autonomous driving, as in Google's driverless car project. CarSpeak lets multiple self-driving cars share information about objects that are hidden from one vehicle but visible to the sensors of another nearby. And given the promised improvements in mobile technology more broadly, chances are we'll be more absorbed in our devices 10 years from now -- so the safer choice may be to leave the driving duties to the car.

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