10 of today's really cool network & IT research projects

Here's what top university and college researchers are cooking up for wireless, cloud, security and other tech innovations

10 of today's really cool network & IT research projects

University at Buffalo students test their underwater wireless network in Lake Erie.

Credit: Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

New enterprise and consumer network technologies are coming fast and furious these days via well-heeled startups, and yes, even more established tech players. But further back in the pipeline, in the research labs of universities and colleges around the world, that's where the really cool stuff is happening.

Take a peek at some of the more intriguing projects in areas ranging from wireless to security to open source to robotics and cloud computing.

UNDERWATER WIRELESS

University at Buffalo and Northeastern University researchers are developing hardware and software to enable underwater telecommunications to catch up with over-the-air networks. This advancement could be a boon for search-and-rescue operations, tsunami detection, environmental monitoring and more.

Their National Science Foundation-supported work is outlined in a study titled “Software-Defined Underwater Acoustic Networks: Toward a High-Rate Real-Tim Reconfigurable Modem” published in late 2015 in IEEE Communications Magazine. 

"The remarkable innovation and growth we've witnessed in land-based wireless communications has not yet occurred in underwater sensing networks, but we're starting to change that," says Dimitris Pados, PhD, Clifford C. Furnas Professor of Electrical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at UB, a co-author of the study.

Sound waves used underwater are just no match for the radio waves used in over-the-air communications, but the researchers are putting smart software-defined radio technology to work in combination with underwater acoustic modems. A ten-fold improvement could be had, if early testing is to be believed.

APPLE WATCH NOT JUST A TOY 

Penn State University Associate Professor of Educational Psychology Rayne Sperling is studying how students’ self-regulated learning can benefit from wearable and accessible technologies, such as the Apple Watch, that students can use both to create and consume content.

"We will be using the Apple Watch as a new mechanism to provide academic scaffolds that target students’ monitoring of their learning and academic progress as well as specific strategies students can use as they learn course content,” Sperling says.

rayne sperling Penn State University

Penn State's Rayne Sperling gets hands-on with the Apple Watch

Sperling is working with the school’s Information Technology Services organization to help guide Penn State in the best use of technology to support teachers and students. According to the Teaching and Learning with Technology unit of ITS, “Using the Apple Watch as a starting point, we are working with Rayne to develop a ‘Fitbit for learning’ approach to self-regulation, leveraging the Apple Watch to collect data around student learning, then providing that data back to students in a visual way that helps them reflect on what learning strategies are effective and lead to academic success.”

ROBOTUTOR: NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF

Where were these Carnegie Mellon University researchers when Sister Thomas Catherine was frightening me and other good little Catholic school 3rd graders back in the day? 

A team of CMU researchers is taking aim at the $10 million grand prize of the $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE competition, the goal of which is to empower children to take control of their own learning via tablet computers, software and the like. The competition was announced in 2014 and entries are due by November.

The researchers aren't actually trying to displace the good sisters and other teachers from their jobs, but rather, are looking to help educate kids in parts of the world where teachers and schools are hard to find. 

“At Carnegie Mellon, we take pride in solving big problems, and the lack of formal schooling is a truly immense problem in many parts of the world,” said Jack Mostow, a research professor emeritus in the Robotics Institute and the leader of CMU’s “RoboTutor” team, in a statement. “If we can develop educational technology to fill that gap, we can significantly improve the lives of the 250 million children who today can’t read, write, or do basic math.” 

Among Mostow's claims to fame at CMU: His work on an automated Reading Tutor.

THE POWER OF OPEN SOURCE

 Graphics processor units, which have been enabling video gaming consoles and computers to handle graphics-heavy apps for about 40 years, are the latest beneficiaries of open source. Researchers at Binghamton University say they have become the first to use an open-source GPU for research.

Nyami is a synthesizable GPU architectural model for general-purpose and graphics-specific workloads, and could pave the way for other researchers to build their own GPUs, says Binghamton University computer science assistant professor Timothy Miller.

"As a researcher, it's important to have tools for realistically evaluating new ideas that may improve performance, energy efficiency, or other challenges in processor architecture," he says. There’s been a movement to test GPUs for dealing with more than just graphics, such as algorithms.

binghampton Jonathan Cohen, Binghamton University

Binghamton University's Timothy Miller worked on Nyami, an open source GPU that can handle more than graphics processing

You can dive into the details of Nyami in a paper titled "Nyami: A Synthesizable GPU Architectural Model for General-Purpose and Graphics-Specific Workloads.”

EXPECTING MORE FROM THE CLOUD

While the cloud has plenty of economic and reliability benefits, performance guarantees can be a little more iffy. Computer science professors at Washington University in St. Louis have received a 3-year, $610,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to study dynamic real-time virtualization and cloud computing, looking to make advances that could strengthen the cloud’s support for Internet-of-Things applications such as automobile safety and traffic signaling systems. More specifically, they’ll look to build a cloud computing platform that can manage and coordinate real-time virtual machines.

“Today’s cloud systems are slow and unpredictable,” says Chenyang Lu, who is working on the project with colleague Christopher Gill – the two previously developed real-time open-source scheduling software dubbed RT-Xen for virtualized environments. “If you send a job to a cloud computing platform, sometimes it comes back quickly, and sometimes it comes back slowly because it’s sharing the machine you’re submitting it to with other virtual machines.”

POWERCYBER: KEEPING THE GRID GOING 

A cyberattack in the Ukraine that knocked out dozens of power substations and resulted in hundreds of cities losing power has been a fresh wake-up call for those

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