A better experience for mobile users

UTA computer scientist earns grant to enhance user experience on mobile devices

Monday, May 18, 2020 • Herb Booth :

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A computer scientist at The University of Texas at Arlington is working to improve the user experience for people using phones and tablets to stream movies and use apps.

Assistant Professor Ming Li hopes to develop a framework for wireless carriers and internet providers to incorporate data obtained through context-aware sensing that factors in user location, the type of applications being accessed and even a user’s emotional state. The data would allow companies to make adjustments to optimize the user experience.

Li received a five-year, $502,170 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development program, known as CAREER, for her research.

“Context-aware sensing provides a historical record of where I’ve been, the apps I’ve used and the data rate,” Li said. “Using this information, we can forecast where I’ll go in the future, what kind of applications I’ll use and what I’ll require to use it, similar to how websites choose targeted advertising based on browser history. Using this data, providers can begin to plan how their networks and services can best be offered to ensure high user satisfaction."

One challenge is how to acquire user information, especially subjective data such as emotional state and usage habits that are difficult to obtain. Li plans to leverage her background in mobile sensing and wearable computing to acquire this data.

Another challenge comes from privacy concerns. She said she hopes to balance the need for privacy with quality of experience by developing a quantitative tool that addresses experience and privacy laws simultaneously.

Li anticipates that providers will use the data to reserve space on networks or pre-cache content based on usage predictions. Pre-caching involves storing or downloading data in anticipation of its use to allow web pages to load faster. That way, users won’t experience service drops or issues as a signal is handed off from cell tower to cell tower.

“It is exciting that Dr. Li has earned a CAREER award,” said Hong Jiang, chair of the Computer Science and Engineering Department. “Her approach to context-aware sensing will improve our ability to use our mobile devices to their utmost capability. It will also give internet providers and wireless carriers important insight into previously ‘invisible’ factors that prevented them from delivering the best possible experience to their customers.”

Li’s research interests include mobile computing, Internet of Things, security and privacy-preserving computing. She strongly supports encouraging female students to pursue research.

The Faculty Early Career Development Program is the NSF’s most prestigious award for junior faculty. Winners are outstanding researchers, but also are expected to be outstanding teachers through research, educational excellence and the integration of education and research at their home institutions.

Seven other UTA faculty have active NSF CAREER Award support:

  • Matthew Walsh of the Biology Department received $600,000 in 2017 to study whether behavioral plasticity promotes or constrains adaptation.
  • Jia Rao of the Computer Science and Engineering Department received $498,000 to redesign abstractions in virtualized systems to improve efficiency.
  • Majie Fan of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department received $485,627 in 2015 to enhance understanding of the Rocky Mountains and how their modern, elevated landscape came to be.
  • Yi Hong in the Bioengineering Department received $500,000 in 2016 to develop a polymer that will allow engineers to develop a scaffold that is flexible, conductive and biodegradable for biomedical applications such as tissue repair.
  • Junzhou Huang of the Computer Science and Engineering Department received $545,763 in 2016 to discover a process by which image-omics data can be combined into files that are small enough that current computing technology will allow scientists to better predict how long a patient will live and how best to treat him or her.
  • Ankur Jain in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department received $500,000 in 2016 to develop a fundamental understanding of how heat flows in materials within a Li-ion battery so they can be used safely in more applications.
  • Alice Sun in the Electrical Engineering Department received $500,000 in 2016 to develop an all-liquid optofluidic laser that could better detect cancer in the comfort of a doctor’s office.

- Written by Jeremy Agor, College of Engineering