10 cool network and computing research projects

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Idiot-proof wireless smartphone charging, zippier supercomputers and software coding shortcuts among researchers' focus areas in latest well-funded projects

If you think the latest enterprise and consumer network and computer technologies rolling into your data center and being snuck into your offices by end users are advanced, wait until you see what's cooking in the labs at universities and tech companies. Much of well-funded research is aimed at security, simplifying use of current technology and figuring out how to more easily plow through mounds of big data. Here's at peek at 10 projects. 

Idiot-proof Smartphone Charging

Microsoft researchers are working on technology to make smartphone charging much less of a burden for users. The techniques being explored include an image-processing technique for detecting and locating smartphones in an office as well as solar/photovoltaic cell technology that works indoors to AutoCharge phones via a beam of light.

The prototype developed showed evidence of being able to charge phones as fast as wire-based solutions, according to the researchers, and easier to use than current wireless charging techniques that require users to put their phones on a charging pad.

Wireless phone charger Microsoft 

Lazy Supercomputing

You’d think there’s nothing lazy at all these days about supercomputing given how fast these beasts process data, but computer scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility are taking what they call a lazy approach to making the machines run more efficiently.

More specifically, the researchers are seeking a better way of “checkpointing” applications, that is, storing info about the app’s state. They want to avoid checkpointing too often on high-performance computers, but want to do it enough so that if there is an app or system failure that minimal work will be lost. Their notion based upon their research is that errors tend to cluster around an original hardware failure, so checkpointing frequency should be increased at that point, but then eased off once things settle down. Such lazy checkpointing could reduce I/O volume 20% to 30%, and that would give supercomputers a real performance boost.

Getting a Fast Start

Cornell University researchers, along with colleagues from the University of Connecticut and other institutions, recently published a paper in the journal Nature that describes a theoretical and experimental discovery involving the use of a multiferroic material (bismuth ferrite) to build a memory device that conjures up visions of lightweight computers that start up even faster than some of today’s quick-start offerings.

Their advance would potentially allow for smaller, more reliable and less energy-intensive devices by getting around the need to use electric currents to encode data even at room temperature. While their breakthrough is promising, they made just a single device, and it would take billions of them to build a usable computer memory system, according to Cornell.

MORE: 13 More Cool Network & Computing Research Projects 

Exploring the Cloud

The National Science Foundation is devoting $10 million for a multi-school effort to build better cloud computing infrastructure that’s so important for researchers in fields spanning from physics to medicine to genetics.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Utah and Clemson University will each operate interconnected large-scale data centers for CloudLab, which will enable researchers in networking, storage and security to examine ways to bolster the cloud. Vendors such as Cisco will align with the schools on the project. The University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Raytheon BBN Technologies and US Ignite are also key players in the CloudLab effort. 

University of Wisconsin computer science professor Aditya Akella said in a statement that “Almost all major services we depend on today rely on cloud computing. Our digital and physical lives are increasingly shaped by modern-day clouds.”

Another $10 NSF-funded experimental cloud project, dubbed Chameleon, is anchored by the University of Chicago and the University of Texas at Austin, which will oversee a giant reconfigurable cloud infrastructure boasting 650 nodes and 5 terabytes of storage. This bare-metal cloud infrastructure is designed to enable researchers to work with new virtualization technologies.

Coder Helper

Rice University researchers lead a four-year project backed by $11 million from DARPA to create a tool called PLINY designed to autocomplete and autocorrect code for programmers.

“Imagine the power of having all the code that has ever been written in the past available to programmers at their fingertips as they write new code or fix old code,”

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