University at Buffalo researchers are enlisting hundreds of
students to build an unprecedented smartphone network that will
help scientists improve handheld computers and better understand
how the devices are changing the world.
Dubbed PhoneLab, the forthcoming network is believed to be the
world's largest collection of smartphone users assembled for
large-scale experiments. It will help researchers build more
powerful, secure and efficient smartphones and smartphone
applications, improve wireless networking and educate students
about mobile devices.
"We're trying to improve the smartphone experience. We want to
make these devices work better," said Geoffrey Challen, assistant
professor in UB's Computer Science and Engineering department, and
principal investigator of PhoneLab.
While smartphone use is skyrocketing -- Forrester Research says
1 billion people will have one by 2016 -- experimentation on the
devices is limited. Researchers either conduct tests in the
marketplace, which constrains their access to the smartphone, or
create their own test group, which is costly and
PhoneLab will solve both problems by offering unparalleled
access to a ready test group and their smartphones, Challen said.
Drawing interest from scholars worldwide from a variety of
disciplines, PhoneLab is expected to push the boundaries of mobile
Here's how it will work:
Using a $1.3 million National Science Foundation grant, UB will
equip 200 students with new Google/Samsung-developed Android Nexus
S smartphones. The students will receive one year of free service
with Sprint featuring unlimited voice and data plans. Sprint is
providing up to $384,300 per year in savings toward PhoneLab.
In exchange, UB students must participate in two hours of
experiments every week. A student might be asked to perform simple
tasks, such as completing a survey, or something more complex, like
using a new geotagging application. After one year, students will
receive discounted monthly bills of about $44. There is a potential
savings of more than $2,000 if enrolled for four years. Students
who leave PhoneLab after one year will not be penalized, but they
will have to return the phone.
Student privacy will be protected. Experiments will be approved
by an Institutional Review Board, a group of UB faculty members
whose role is to safeguard the rights and welfare of research
Students will receive an email prior to each experiment
describing the research, what type of information it seeks and how
it will be collected. If students are uncomfortable with an
experiment, they can decline to participant. Research results will
be shared publicly.
UB is seeking student participants, especially freshmen,
sophomores and PhD candidates. For more information, visit:
While Google, Samsung and Sprint are providing goods and
services toward PhoneLab, they will not influence the experiments,
Challen said. PhoneLab will be available to accredited researchers
at no cost, and UB will decide how experiments proceed.
Sprint will have access to smartphone data much like it does
with its millions of customers. The PhoneLab team will also have
access to the phones, but it will not constantly monitor them.
Instead, the team will periodically check the phone's location,
battery level and other components to ensure it is working
properly. This information will not be released outside of
Challen is joined by PhoneLab co-investigators: Professor
Chunming Qiao, Associate Professors Murat Demirbas and Tevfik
Kosar, and Assistant Professor Steven Ko. All are members of UB's
Computer Science and Engineering department, which is part of the
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
In addition to conducting research, the professors will develop
undergraduate and graduate classes utilizing PhoneLab. UB students
will learn how to program smartphones and smartphone applications,
as well as better comprehend how this new computing paradigm is
Anudipa Maiti, a PhD student and PhoneLab team member, said
she's interested in how academics outside of computer science will
use the network. "PhoneLab will allow researchers from different
disciplines to run collaborative experiments," she said.
The professors also plan to work with middle and high school
pupils at the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School.
PhoneLab will expand to UB faculty and staff in August 2013,
when an additional 250 smartphones are issued. UB plans to hand out
another 250 phones in August 2014, growing PhoneLab to 700
participants. There are other smartphone labs -- also known as
testbeds -- but none compare to the size planned at UB, Ko
"This is going to put the University at Buffalo at the center of
smartphone research," he said.
Additional PhoneLab team members are: PhD students Lokesh
Mandvekar, Rishi Baldawa, Fatih Bulut and Anandatirtha Nandugudi;
master's students Bhaavyaa Kapoor, Michael Benedict, Vinu Charanya,
Manoj Chandrasekaran, Jay Inamdar and Taeyeon Ki; undergraduates
Mitch Nguyen and Sean Zawicki.