Lab Works to Develop Fast, Handheld Computers

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An interdisciplinary group of faculty researchers on campus are developing technologies that could create cell phones that replace laptop computers.

The Parallel Computing Lab, founded last month on campus, is home to about a dozen researchers across several disciplines who are investigating parallel computing, a type of technology that would enable computers to function at faster speeds.

"The hope is that the handheld will be able to replace laptops, the way laptops did desktops," said Ras Bodik, associate professor of computer science and an investigator at the lab.

The lab held a kickoff retreat last month and researchers are now working in a cluster of offices in Soda Hall, Bodik said.

In the past, researchers have been unable to create computers that perform at fast speeds without causing the computer cores to overheat. However, with the advent of parallel computing, computers can perform at both high speeds and moderate temperatures.

"You would do your YouTube browsing in minutes rather than hours," Bodik said.

A formal lab has yet to be built, but about a dozen faculty members have been meeting and brainstorming ideas since February 2005.

"That brainstorming led, over the period of two years, to a paper that became quite influential, and the lab came soon after that," he said.

The group submitted a proposal last summer to technology giants Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. as part of a competition for research funds between about 25 institutions who were invited to compete, Bodik said.

"It's one of the biggest changes in the computer industry in the last 30 years, which is why the industry's paying attention to academic ideas quite a bit," he said.

Bodik said the group has received word from the companies but that final details have not been announced.

Microsoft officials would not confirm details about the competition, and officials at Intel could not be reached for comment.

Researchers at the lab are attempting to create prototypes that would make technology more accessible to ordinary computer programmers, since only experts know how to write effective parallel programs, Bodik said.

The process could lead to new technologies across other industries, from Web browsing to health care.

"Hopefully it will help us better understand disease and develop improved diagnosis (for heart disease and stroke)," said Tony Keaveny, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering and a leader of one of the lab's subprojects.

He said he is happy to begin work at the lab with members of other disciplines.

"I'm just excited about the work we're doing on this project," Keaveny said. "For me this is an opportunity to work more closely with (computer scientists.)"


Contact Angelica Dongallo at

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