KU wins grant to develop 'smart rooms'
Imagine walking into a conference room to give a presentation and seeing a high definition television display, remote cameras, microphones and several laptop computers. The room looks like the ship's bridge from "Star Trek" and acts like it, too. Computers embedded in the room identify your voice as you direct the equipment to set up for your presentation. You assign the cameras to view specific areas of the room and request the television to show another conference room in the building. You also ask that your presentation be loaded on the projector from your computer back at your office. As others enter the room, they sit at the laptops and identify themselves with their thumbprints, accessing their own computers from the terminals.
This futuristic room may seem implausible, but research for the technology has already begun at the University of Kansas.
The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.29 million grant to KU's Information and Telecommunications Technology Center for its Ambient Computational Environments project, which will look at how computer resources can be used to create "smart rooms."
Gary Minden, ITTC's chief technologist and the project's lead investigator, said the major challenge of the ACE project was developing a way to separate a person's workspace from a specific computer. A workspace includes the programs, screen settings and everything else that people expect to see while sitting at their own computers. When completed, the ACE system will be similar to a network, but users will be able to access their entire workspace instead of just a few files. The desktop computer will not have a hard drive; it will simply be one of many terminals from which users can access their workspace.
The ACE team is evaluating equipment for the room and plans to begin installation in March, Minden said. Two of ITTC's conference rooms will undergo the upgrade. Minden said the rooms should be completed within a year.
"This technology could eventually change the way people use computer resources," Minden said, replacing individual computers, wireless phones, disc players and other devices with one information appliance that could perform numerous tasks.
KU's Information and Telecommunications Technology Center is well-suited to the ACE project because of its interdisciplinary research environment.
ITTC conducts research in five labs that, together, encompass the entire information technology field. The labs can take on projects that require expertise in more than one discipline. ITTC director Victor Frost said this breadth of knowledge gave ITTC an advantage over most other research centers. ITTC's research projects often result in marketable technologies, which can be sold or licensed.
The center receives financial support from industry, federal and state institutions. ITTC is the second largest research facility on KU's Lawrence campus, with 1999 expenditures of approximately $6.5 million.
The National Science Foundation supports research and education in most science and engineering fields by awarding grants, contracts and cooperative agreements to colleges, universities and other research and education organizations. More than 2,000 institutions in the United States receive awards each year to pay for research, fellowships and education projects. The NSF receives about 30,000 proposals each year, but gives out less than 10,000 awards.
For more information, contact ITTC.