Posted by Rob Knies

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Making efficient use of resources and tools is a hallmark of many computer-research projects, and that target is exemplified in a pair of videos that illuminate work coming from Microsoft Research India.

The videos, recently made publicly accessible, represent two distinct research projects, one from the Mobility, Networks, and Systems team at the India lab, the other from the Technology for Emerging Markets group. The former examines a method to make devices more energy-efficient by using cloud resources, while the latter offers a novel way to educate students in poor communities.

Stratus: Energy-Efficient Mobile Communication Using Cloud Support addresses the problem of battery drain on smartphones and tablets. Cellular-radio communication is a significant contributor to battery drain, and, as Vishnu Navda explains, he and his colleagues use a cloud-based proxy to optimize incoming and outgoing traffic to make best use of radio conditions.
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“The key idea,” Navda says, “is to shape your network traffic in order to match it better with the energy characteristics of the cellular interface.”

Stratus accomplishes this in three ways:

  • Aggregation: batching sporadic transmissions.
  • Compression: using fast, asymmetric, lossless data compression to reduce the number of bits being transmitted.
  • Opportunistic scheduling: avoiding communication during periods of poor signal reception.

These techniques can be used individually or in combination, and the energy savings are dramatic. The Stratus prototype can halve the energy needed for web browsing by using aggregation and compression, and aggregation and opportunistic scheduling can save as much as 35 percent for a media-streaming application.

The second video, Wikipedia on TV-DVD for Low-Income Communities, takes note of the fact that while certain technologies still prove elusive for many households in the developing world, lots of people are able to own televisions and DVD players.
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The latter happen to support rich interactivity and programmability. Imagine a movie DVD where you have the ability to navigate through scene selection, language options, outtakes, and the like.

Bill Thies capitalizes on such functionality to deliver educational resources to low-income students via DVD. His team has mapped a huge subset of Wikipedia, the Wikipedia Selection for schools, to disk. The collection includes about 6,000 articles, and, in total, includes a quarter-million screens of information, complete with scrolling, indexing, search, hyperlinks, and navigation, all enabled by use of a remote control.

“In this project,” Thies says, “we’re exploring new ways of distributing interactive educational materials to communities that don’t have access to computers or the Internet. The idea is very simple: Instead of a computer, we use an ordinary DVD player and a television, which are widely available in many communities.”

In India, he notes, more than 65 percent of households have access to television, and about a fifth of them have access to a DVD player.

“We’ve really pushed the capabilities of how to get the most out of this ordinary technology,” Thies says. “I’m very excited about this because, in addition to the penetration of the technology, there is also a very robust network for distributing DVDs in places like India. How can we leverage this existing infrastructure for educational purposes?”

Enjoy!