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Beginning with the end-user

New Canada Research Chair at Concordia brings novel ideas to communications consumers
January 17, 2011
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By Russ Cooper
Source: Concordia Journal

Tier 2 Canada Research Chair Roch H. Glitho holds up a sensor he is using to develop new applications for cellphones. The sensor can measure aspects of space, physiology and environment, for example, location via GPS, blood pressure and luminosity. He anticipatessuch sensors will be integrated into phones in the near future. | Photo by Concordia university
Tier 2 Canada Research Chair Roch H. Glitho holds up a sensor he is using to develop new applications for cellphones. The sensor can measure aspects of space, physiology and environment, for example, location via GPS, blood pressure and luminosity. He anticipatessuch sensors will be integrated into phones in the near future. | Photo by Concordia university

Your cellphone will soon be able to talk to your fridge.

This is only one idea from the creative imagination of one of Concordia’s newest Canada Research Chairs.

Roch H. Glitho, professor at the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE), was awarded in November with a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in End-User Service Engineering for Communications Networks.

The aim of Glitho’s research is to investigate how current communications infrastructure might need to be changed so that new services can be provided.

Glitho, a researcher at Concordia’s Telecommunications Service Engineering Lab, believes the potential of cellphones does not lie in further connections between people, but in creating intuitive connections between people and objects.

To do so, he is developing applications to adapt cellphones for a range of new functions. He is also considering how existing sensor technology, capable of measuring space, temperature, environment or luminosity, might be used in everyday situations.

For example, you might already use your smartphone to check local sales at stores. Glitho would like your phone to use microchip technology to check in with your fridge just as the phone’s GPS system senses you are passing a grocery store. Connecting to a chip in the fridge, your phone would signal you’re low on milk, eggs and melons. Sensors in your phone could even help you select the ripest melon in the bin.

That same GPS technology can be used to remind you to return books as you pass the library, or inform you a bill is due as you pass the bank machine.

The research into this technology is still at a conceptual and prototyping stage. However, Glitho says similar applications are currently being tested in Tokyo and Stockholm in small-scale experiments. He anticipates the technology will be available to the public in as soon as one year.

“The final goal is to make daily life easier and to increase value in business as well,” says Glitho, who was an adjunct professor at Concordia from 2002 until he accepted a full-time position as associate professor this summer.

However, he acknowledges this technology relies on an established and wide-ranging Internet infrastructure. What about emerging economies without widely available Internet service?

It’s an issue he’s addressing in his home country of Benin, where he holds an adjunct professorship at the Institut de Mathématiques et de Sciences Physiques, Université d’Abomey-Calavi.

He says figures show that Internet penetration rates in most emerging economies are very low. On the other hand, cellphones are plentiful and the usage rate of text messaging is high.

In Benin, for example, 1.8% of the population has Internet access; more than 50% has access to text messaging. In India, the numbers are less than 5% and more than 50% respectively.

His research investigates ways to use different available technological resources to best advantage; for instance, replacing Internet banking with text-message banking. He’s developing an application that allows someone to send a transaction request via text message to the bank, for example. The bank could then text back further questions or a notice the request had been fulfilled.

“I see the cellphone as a great tool, but it still needs a lot of improvement to be usable to a wider range of people around the world. How can we make the cellphone accessible to those who cannot read and write?” Expanded voice activation capabilities in more languages might be the solution, he says.

Glitho was one of five Concordia researchers named or renewed as CRCs in 2010. Over five years, the university will receive $500,000 for each CRC.

Related links:
•    Concordia’s Telecommunications Service Engineering Research Lab
•    New funding for Canada Research Chairs – Now, November 24, 2010
•    Concordia’s Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science



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