MIT class project gets a gold star from Google

'Locale' will let Android cell phones adjust to surroundings


A team of MIT students walked away from their spring-semester course with a lot more than just an A and six credits: They just won a $275,000 top prize from Google for the application they developed for the company's new open-source Android cell-phone system.

The application, called "Locale," lets a cell phone automatically adjust its settings according to the location it's in — for example, silencing the ringer when it detects that it's at the office or in a lecture hall.

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Locale was developed by students in a class called "Building mobile applications with Android," (6.087), taught by Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The class is being offered again this fall, but this time is extending to two other cell-phone systems in addition to Google's Android: Nokia and Windows Mobile.

Engineers from Google, Nokia and Microsoft will also work with students in the class to help them develop their concepts. One of the important aspects of this hands-on class, Abelson says, is "to give the students the experience of working with really experienced professionals" as they refine their applications. Professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland of the Media Lab and Eric Klopfer of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning will be co-teaching the class with Abelson. Andrew Yu of MIT's IS&T will also be working with the teams.

Two of the students who developed Locale, Carter Jernigan and Jasper Lin, graduated this June with degrees in computer science and are now working as software engineers. Christina Wright is also a recent graduate in computer science. And Clare Bayley is a junior, majoring in computer science. Jennifer Shu, a recent MIT graduate in computer science who works as a software engineer, was added to the team to help them perfect the product.

The team's application was one of 10 Google selected for the top prizes on Aug. 29, out of 50 finalists that were chosen from hundreds of entries. In addition to the cash prize, each of the winning applications will now be included with every new Android phone. The first such phones are expected to be released before the end of the year. Ten other teams won $100,000 each.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 10, 2008 (download PDF).


Topics: Computer science and technology, Electrical engineering and electronics, Awards, honors and fellowships, Contests and academic competitions, Students

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