CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Wireless handset maker Nokia is hoping to speed the process of product innovation through a new research and development effort launched in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Nokia and MIT officially opened a new joint research facility in MITs Kendall Square neighborhood here April 20, telling media and analysts gathered for the event that the facilitys existence will greatly improve the two organizations ability to share breakthroughs in wireless technology.
The research center will specifically tap into work being conducted at MITs CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory).
While Nokia has teamed with MIT for research efforts since as far back as the early 1980s, officials said the opening of the Cambridge research center will allow for the sort of daily interaction necessary to move development efforts forward at a rapid pace, and push some of those technologies into Nokias products sooner.
“Were moving from a world where we look at the device as a phone into a world where we view devices as mobile gateways,” said Dr. Bob Iannucci, head of Nokia Research Center, the companys primary R&D arm.
“This is one of the most exciting areas for innovation and new technologies, but it represents its own world of challenges; we want to create real information gateways that move information from the desktop into the pocket.”
MIT officials said that working more closely with Nokia will help its own researchers remain at the top of their field and keep projects focused on the types of applications that customers will truly demand.
“We must understand what the issues are at companies like this or we will become irrelevant,” said Prof. Rodney Brooks, director of CSAIL.
“I think weve had good results working together so far, but were really only starting to understand the issues.”
Among the specific projects the companies have already teamed around are efforts aimed at developing new ways to securely connect various devices to each other over the Internet, building new operating system-level technologies aimed at securing data on mobile handsets, and creating more energy-efficient device hardware components.
One of the projects, dubbed SwapMe, is attempting to build a development platform for so-called Semantic Web applications which could someday allow devices to access Web-based information based more on users preferences and the context of the information they are seeking than on traditional data indexes.
The Semantic Web is a project being spearheaded within CSAIL by Dr. Timothy Berners-Lee, who is credited with launching the worlds first Web client in 1990. Berners-Lee, who is a chairman at CSAIL, is listed as one of the contributors to SwapMe.
Another effort, labeled as project Simone, is mean to address new ways for interacting with devices using speech. Such applications will prove useful in programming the devices of the future in addition to providing opportunities for a large number of new location-based, search and vertical handset applications, researchers said.
“There hasnt been a lot of work completed in the area of bringing natural language search together with GPS, but its not hard to imagine the benefits of a system that answers questions such as where am I?,” said Boris Katz, a principal research scientist at CSAIL. “We want natural language recognition to be a first class citizen on the device.”
Nokia and MIT didnt discuss how much money it plans to invest in the Cambridge research center, and Iannucci said that Nokia is viewing the effort as a resource for launching other new projects with additional partners.
While not officially involved in the effort yet, he pointed to existing collaboration between CSAIL and chip maker Texas Instruments that he said could complement some of the research being driven by Nokia.
The partners said they plan to make much of the work they are doing together public via research papers and other resources, but have made no promise of sharing their work with any specific standards bodies.
MIT officials pointed out, however, that Berners-Lee remains director of the powerful World Wide Web Consortium and said some research could be shared with other researchers via that connection.
Industry analysts attending the event said that the new cooperation between MIT and Nokia should help give the handset maker a leg up in developing new technologies, but customers will drive what types of applications handset manufacturers pursue first, said David Linsalata, analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. He also said he believes that MITs experts will help push much of their work into the public domain.
“A lot of what is eventually taken up out of these sorts of efforts is whats needed and driven by customers more than anything else,” Linsalata said. “MIT has said their goal is to publish a lot of this work and get it out into the open, so I think that will happen.”
“The difference is that Nokia will know about the innovations sooner, understand the work better, and have an opportunity to move things into manufacturing faster,” he said.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.