Cool Microsoft Research Project: mPlatform

mPlatform is a Microsoft Research project led by Feng Zhao, a principal researcher in the Networked Embedded Computing group within Microsoft Research Redmond. In 2006, he co-authored a paper along with Bodhi Priyantha, a researcher in Zhao’s group on something called mPlatform, which is basically a proposal to build hardware out of Lego-like modules which would then function as reconfigurable, scalable, and modular sensors that could be used to track real-time developments in areas such as energy, environment, security, healthcare, and more.

A lot of times we forget that there’s really a lot more to computing than just the laptop you use to check your email and posts pictures to Facebook – there’s a whole world of computing that takes place on embedded devices, and that’s what this Microsoft Research group on embedded computing focuses on. Embedded computing through sensor networks has its challenges, though – there are energy and bandwidth resources to think of as well as uncertainty about the systems and the environment they operate in. Additionally, many of the tasks require collaboration among devices. The group is trying to discover new and better ways to do all of these things. 

As far as mPlatform goes, Zhao says, “it’s all about tinkering. Instead of trying to write software to live with existing hardware limitations, researchers ought to be able to aggregate hardware to suit their software needs and debug the application logic before fabricating and deploying these devices at scale…People can start using these platforms to build interesting applications quickly. We take some of the common things out of these different applications, embedded application prototypes in the main, and let users focus more on thinking about the sort of applications they want to build.”

So far, Zhao has built 6 different types of modules, with 2 more radio modules and 1 more processor module on the way.

(Bodhi Priyantha is pictured holding one of the mPlatform modules).

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