MIT’s wireless research projects that can ‘change our lives’

MIT recently opened its new Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing, nicknamed Wireless@MIT, where university researchers will collaborate with partners from Microsoft, Cisco, and Intel, among others. Here are some of the most innovative projects, some of which MIT say have the potential to “change our lives,” that are already underway. See related story.

Smartphones to make driving safer

Smartphones to make driving safer

Despite evidence to the contrary, MIT professor and center co-director Hari Balakrishnan presented a project that uses smartphones to encourage safer driving. Using GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular, compass and other mobile technologies, the research team developed an app that can run in the background on a smartphone and monitor important driver stats, such as mileage, road types, and speed profiles. That data can be used to reduce car insurance rates, creating a financial incentive to drive safer.

Improving mobile videoconferencing performance

Improving mobile videoconferencing performance

MIT PhD student Keith Winstein showed how his videoconferencing app, called Alfalfa, could avoid outages that are common on Skype, Apple’s Facetime and Google+ Hangouts when conducted over 3G or LTE networks. Unlike those apps, Alfalfa uses probability theory to predict network performance in real time, reacting accordingly by reducing or increasing the number of packets it sends when network performance drops or improves.

Safer driverless cars

Safer driverless cars

The race to bring a driverless car to the road has been going for years, with the main objective being to make it safe enough for people to use. MIT suggests a new approach, connecting autonomous cars to communicate automated information on pedestrians or cars that the vehicle may collide with, such as a car pulling out from behind a building or a child running into the road.

MegaMIMO

Presented by MIT professor and center co-director Dina Katabi, MegaMIMO is the wireless network variation of the multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) technology that applies multiple antennas to radio transmitters and receivers. MegaMIMO prevents interference on the network, improving network performance as more access points are used.

PCAST Report

PCAST Report

Dr. Vanu Bose, president and CEO of Vanu Inc., presented findings from the recent President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report, which reiterates scary findings from a similar report a decade ago – spectrum is running out. The difference this time is that a solution is available in shared spectrum, though Dr. Bose admitted that work with R&D, database, and system design will be needed to get to that point.

Network coding

Network coding

In collaboration with Harvard University, QualComm, Google and others, Professor Muriel Medard presented MIT’s work using coded networks to reduce network interruption, particularly for video streaming over multipath TCP. An example was run with a YouTube video, which was shown to run at higher performance with coded TCP accessed on proxy servers than with TCP and WLAN.

Self-powered wireless sensors

Self-powered wireless sensors

Professor Anantha Chandrakasan presented his plan to develop devices powered by human body heat. Estimating that a device attached to the human body can put out roughly 100 microwatts of power, he laid out his plan to create a self-powered node that only uses 100 microwatts. By adding two transistors to the SRAM array and incorporating solar power, among other things, Chandrakasan developed functional, self-powered computer nodes.

Transportation services on a network of phones

Transportation services on a network of phones

As powerful as smartphones have gotten over the past five years, they still pale in comparison to server processors. But what if phones combined their powers? Professor Li-Shiuan Peh presented what the researchers were able to do by linking smartphones. The result was an app that informs users when traffic lights will turn red or green ahead of time, as well as the ability to share memory over as many as 10 phones.

Securing medical implants

Securing medical implants

Wireless technology could play a huge role in the healthcare field, particularly for patients with medical implants. Tasked with the problem of securing information sent from patient's implanted devices to their doctors, University of Washington professor and former MIT student Shyam Gollakota discussed a wearable device that employs complex over the air encryption to prevent attackers from hacking the device or accessing patient data.