ECE course enables students to create smartphone apps

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By Nathaniel Lash, ECE ILLINOIS
June 7, 2011

  • Students in a new ECE course developed apps for smartphones that made use of cloud computing.
  • Some apps that won course awards including work on providing rapid communication in emergencies, streamlining room reservation procedures, and enhancing collaboration among group members.
  • Students in these groups will continue work on their projects, many hoping to eventually see them as commercial products.

Constantine  Polychronopoulos
Constantine Polychronopoulos

ECE students capped off their undergraduate career in computer engineering by developing smartphone applications that utilize cloud computing. ECE 498HP: Extending Mobile Computing Through Cloud Computing was a new class spearheaded by ECE Professor Constantine Polychronopoulos and ECE Assistant Professor Yih-Chun Hu. In the course, students studied how to extend cloud computing resources to mobile smartphone users.

Yih-Chun  Hu
Yih-Chun Hu

Microsoft provided access to their Windows Phone 7 devices and Windows Azure cloud services for the course. “From Microsoft’s standpoint, the phone is the next big computing platform,” Hu said. As battery life becomes more of an issue—with people’s increasing reliance on energy-draining tasks from their smartphones—cloud computing becomes an important option.

“If your app does something sophisticated that you don’t want to run on the device itself, you can push it out to the cloud,” Hu said.

ECE 498 provided students with experience in developing applications using the growing remote computing technology. Of the five apps developed during the course, three received special recognition and a cash prize sponsored by Microsoft

The Mapster app enables rapid communication during emergencies, identifying the event's time, location, and type.
The Mapster app enables rapid communication during emergencies, identifying the event's time, location, and type.

Mapster: Cloudiest Application

ECE juniors Adarsh Hasija, Pratch Piyawongwisal, and Sahil Handa used the cloud to integrate social media outlets to make the world a safer place. They integrated Twitter and Bing Maps to create Mapster, a mobile app that enables rapid communication during emergencies by identifying the time, location, and type of an emergency event.

Geotagged tweets are combined with weather data in the cloud to enable another user to view the emergency as it unfolds via a spatiotemporal animation that shows the data change over time in Bing Maps. According to Piyawongwisal, this has a number of applications in addition to emergency reporting,

 “We can make it social network, or we can use it solely for research purposes,” Piyawongwisal said. “For instance, the user can use it to find correlation between reported events and the weather conditions.” 

The group worked with researchers from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) on the app, which they’re calling a “citizen event reporting system.”

The Illinois Phone app enables users to quickly and easily reserve rooms for meetings and other collaborative activities.
The Illinois Phone app enables users to quickly and easily reserve rooms for meetings and other collaborative activities.

Illinois Phone: Most Innovative Application

A group of engineering seniors used cloud computing to tackle issues in the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science. Illinois Phone, developed by ECE senior Amey Chaugule and computer science students Joe Fernandez and Abhishek Pradhan, is meant to streamline the University’s authentication system for reserving and opening rooms in the center. It combines a smartphone’s GPS system and QR-code reader with the center’s lock and room reservation system.

Pradhan said the current system does not allow for ad hoc meetings. Undergraduates have to reserve a room in advance, and when fail to do so, they then have to turn to graduate students to open room doors for them.

“This puts everyone in quite an awkward situation, since everyone’s been told not to let people into these rooms,” Pradhan said.

Illinois Phone solves this problem by creating a system that grants access to classrooms when students need them, while keeping a dependable log of who is using what room and when.

“It would be great if there was an app like this that would allow us to schedule in a way that’s more accessible,” Hu said.

The TaskPop app is a task-managing application that streamlines collaboration between people with a shared to-do list.
The TaskPop app is a task-managing application that streamlines collaboration between people with a shared to-do list.

TaskPop: Best Overall Application

ECE senior Stan Idesis worked with longtime friend, roommate, and collaborator Stoyan Gaydarov on TaskPop, a task-managing application that streamlines collaboration between people with a shared to-do list.

“We made the app a lot more social than personal,” Idesis said. “Now, I can create a task, share it with a friend, and when he completes it, I’ll know.”

The app was voted “Student Choice” by those in the class.

 “It’s an app that a lot of us could see ourselves using,” Hu said.

The Future

Though the class (and for most, college) has ended, students are still hard at work putting their apps on the market.

Hasija hopes Mapster is finished by July, when Microsoft sends him and his group to Redmond, Washington, to present their app at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit “DemoFest.”

The group that put together Illinois Phone wants to see if the technology services group can incorporate their app to enable a more reliable room reservation system.

Idesis and Gaydarov plan to put TaskPop on the Android market this summer before they depart for California together to work for Zynga, the game developer of FarmVille fame.

“We put a lot of our efforts into this,” said Idesis. “We started neglecting a lot of our other courses to make sure TaskPop was really polished.”

Hu said the class was intended for like-minded individuals interested in creating their own products. He explained, “This is a course that’s geared toward people who want to build a lot of stuff and are not afraid to put in the hours to do it.”

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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