Nokia and MIT seek smarter mobile phones

Nokia announced Friday it would open a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to research voice-operated, networked cell phones.

In search of ways to make its mobile phones better networked and easier to use, Nokia has unveiled a lab where it will collaborate with academic researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.

Nokia wants its future phones to act as gateways to the Internet instead of mere terminals for conversations.

The laboratory houses 20 researchers from Nokia and 20 from MIT, all seeking ways to converge mobile phones with PDAs and PCs while making them easier to use.

With 35 per cent of the worldwide mobile phone market, Nokia ships a million handsets per day. But mere market leverage did not allow the company to solve design challenges from basic electronics to human interfaces, head of Nokia Research Center, the company's 1,000-person research division, Bob Iannucci, says.

"You can't just put PC parts into a cell phone, following the trend of convergence, because mobility has some unique challenges," he says.

One of the main ones is that handheld devices are power-constrained, so phone designers face strict limits on battery weight and heat generation.

Another challenge is that people manipulate their mobile phones today through physical interfaces, such as writing with a touchscreen stylus or typing on a keypad with their thumbs, instead of using natural spoken language.

So the goal of researchers at the new lab is to create Mobile Ecosystem 2012, a collection of hardware - and software-based technologies that will allow future phones to safely trade data with any network or device, controlled through spoken dialogues with their users, director of the new lab, Jamey Hicks, says.

The joint research team is now working on projects such as: Simone, a standard for interacting with a mobile phone using speech; MobileStart, a way for people to use natural language to extract facts from written documents; Asbestos, a security technique that protects personal information while allowing wireless data sharing; and Armo, a way to quickly create power-efficient hardware to do these tasks.

Nokia and MIT have collaborated in the past on jobs like Project Oxygen, a research effort on human-centered computing that involved MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

This new venture will deliver technologies to the marketplace within 5-10 years, Iannucci says.

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