Mobile Computing, Networking & Applications

This focus area is primarily aimed at work in IT itself, instead of IT-in-X that targets applications of IT to important problems, per our general approach to selecting focus areas described in the plan document. Within IT, it is motivated by simultaneously realizing two desirable properties. First, it involves multiple IT disciplines. This is the result of the fact that the mobility, networking and applications aspects each impose different constraints on the basic formulation of the problems to be solved. Combining these with the characteristics of test-bed scenarios relevant to India brings in additional constraints. The result is the need for an integrated study of the following disciplines, each traditionally studied in the indicated familiar departments

  • Communication Theory – Electrical Engineering
  • Network Theory – Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science
  • Graph Theory – Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics
  • Dependable Systems ­– Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Computer Engineering
  • Communication Protocols ­– Computer Science and Computer Engineering
  • Operating Systems – Computer Science

The traditional separation of these disciplines is the somewhat natural consequence of how they got introduced and evolved as subjects of study. The proposed ITRA structuring of the focus areas has the advantage of creating the desired but otherwise uncommon synthesis. This is because, being new, ITRA centers are free of the factors that in traditional contexts require realigning of administrative and other organizational boundaries. Proposed ITRA centers would bring together researchers in all of these disciplines under the same unit. This, combined with the encouragement (albeit not a uniform, essential requirement), of team based mode of research can be expected to lead to fundamental advances, normally associated with deeply theoretical work. Simultaneously, the theory would have been motivated by more diverse practical constraints than is normal, combining elegance with applicability. Interdisciplinarity these days is a much appreciated, but hard to realize, need. We therefore expect the proposed ITRA centers in this focus area will make their worldwide mark right from the start, from their formation itself, and later, of course, through the natural uniqueness of the work they produce.

The need for practical solutions under condition of mobility is obviously of much practical everyday relevance to the users of hand-held devices, ranging from simple cell phones to sophisticated computing-communication systems or “smart phones.”While the following fields of study are established areas in their own right, affiliated with traditional departments as indicated, they bear particular relevance to India for the reasons also indicated below

  • Embedded Systems – Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Low power, ruggedness and compactness are significant additional constraints posed by the requirement of mobility. These requirements, although universal, are even more relevant to Indian conditions
  • Human Computer Interfaces – Computer Science and Psychology; This area is about the need for communication with machines that mimics the naturalness of inter-human communication. While some aspects of this are common to all peoples, there are clearly major culture-specific parts that are best addressed “locally,” by the users becoming designers, instead of solutions being exported by designers who must first try and understand the needs and preferences of others
  • Language Technologies – Computer Science and Linguistics; There are many subtle aspects of human computer interfaces, paralleling multimodal communication among humans. Using the right language is a straightforward example of this. Since this field is already being pursued vigorously within India, the proposed centers would provide a direct bridge to that activity
  • VLSI Design – Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Design of VLSI subsystems, e.g., for building larger embedded systems, is another example of an area already being pursued with significant success in India. The work by centers in the proposed focus area will provide a major boost to that activity. By teaming up with large international fabrication facilities, it is feasible that the work in the proposed centers will lead to predominantly domestically made hardware products
  • e-Governance – No real presence in any one academic department traditionally; Taking diluted versions of the materials developed in the centers to lower tier institutions is expected to give rise to wide presence of “mobile applications” service developers and providers, leading to an environment in which a common user may either himself, or through an easily accessible knowledge source, develop an everyday application he needs on his mobile device.The pyramid model of inter-institutional collaborations will be of particular help in this regard

ITRA focus on mobile devices, in the proposed interdisciplinary way, can therefore be expected to not only put India on the “science” and “fundamental advances” map of the world in related existing areas, but should also translate into unique new hybrid disciplines, teams and entrepreneurial activities.