Sunday, July 21, 2013

Apps are selfish parasites! How can we get truly collaborative apps on smartphones?

While there has been good progress and wide availability of the devices (smartphones, tablets, sensors) to fulfill the ubiquitous computing vision, the-state-of-the-art in software and integration is lagging far behind. Consider DARPA's 2009 network grand challenge on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Internet. The challenge was to accurately find 10 weather balloons deployed in arbitrary locations of the U.S. within a day. There was an award of $40,000 for the team that would first report the locations of the 10 balloons accurately, and this challenge was solved within 9 hours. The winning team employed social networks and a multilevel incentive structure, but had to prepare, campaign, and publicize aggressively for an entire month before the challenge day.

This points to a big gap between the potential of the smartphones and the reality of the smartphone software today. Why are the existing apps so limited and person-centric? Why can we not have an app that is able to solve similar active collaboration and coordination problems automatically?

We argue that the reason for this gap is the lack of an infrastructure to task/utilize these devices for collaboration and coordination. In the absence of such an infrastructure, the state-of-the-art today is for each device to connect to Internet to download/upload data and accomplish an individual task that does not require collaboration and coordination. In contrast, providing an infrastructure for publish/subscribe and tasking of these devices would enable any device to utilize the data published by several devices in a region, as well as to task several devices in a region to acquire the needed data, if the data is not already being published to the infrastructure.

In order to task/utilize ubiquitous devices for collaboration, we propose a ubiquitous computing middleware, Eywa, which provides an open publish-subscribe infrastructure for smartphones, and paves the way for crowdsourced sensing and collaboration applications. Eywa differs from previous work as its emphasis is on active and focused crowdsourcing and it serves as an enabler for users/devices to task other devices automatically to collect the needed data.

Read on for the rest of our position paper here.

A related paper to this is the LineKing paper.