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Zhong designs phone of the future

By Jennifer Shen     3/31/11 7:00pm

Computer Science Professor Lin Zhong is one of several Rice faculty to receive a $450,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award this year. All answers are paraphrased unless otherwise indicated.

Rice Thresher: What do you plan on doing with it?

Lin Zhong: The money will go toward research, supporting students and buying equipment.

RT: What did you submit to NSF for the CAREER Award?

LZ: The title of my proposal is "Reinventing Smartphones for Sensing," and I talked about my research on smartphones and mobile devices.

RT: Can you talk more about the research? What is your goal?

LZ: We are working on mobile computing, such as smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices. In terms of looking ahead into the future, mobile devices change a lot over short periods of time. We carry our cell phones with us all the time these days, and they can do a lot more for us than just making calls and checking emails.

In the future, cellphones should be able to access your mood, your lifestyle and offer assistance. My phone should know me better than my wife. For example, my phone will know who I talk to, how many email and appointments I have and where I've been, and it should be able to utilize this information to assist me more personally. I envision my phone becoming my best friend or pet dog after using it for a year, reminding me to remember my keys, marking down my calendar and taking notes for me as it listens to my conversation with other people.

In order to achieve this, we will need to develop some sort of artificial intelligence, and the hardware of the phones will need to be changed too. We are currently collaborating with Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Samsung and Motorola to make this happen.

RT: Do you think that people who change their phones frequently will be a problem to your research?

LZ: No, this will actually be beneficial to us. When somebody throws away his phone, he is only throwing away the hardware, and the software can still be kept. Updating one's phone allows us to advance with the hardware while retaining the information of the phone. This is the beauty of technology: When your dog dies, you'd have to train a new dog; if your cellphone dies, you will be able to transfer the personality of the phone into a new one.

RT: What do you think about the CAREER Award?

LZ: I think it sheds light on the new generation of faculty and how they envision the future. Our faculty winning CAREER awards will engender a lot of pride in the students. This could also be an opportunity for students to learn about the interesting research our faculty is doing and possibly get involved. I currently have a lot of undergraduate students in my lab, and I welcome interested students from all majors.

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