Katherine Bourzac

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Nokia Opens New Research Center in Berkeley

The research outpost will focus on technologies that can be brought to market rapidly.

  • October 20, 2009

On Monday Nokia launched a new research center based on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. The company already operates research centers in ten other locations around the world.

During a press briefing, chief development officer Mary McDowell said that, given the current economic climate, the new center will not pursue big-sky research but will focus on technologies that can be brought to market in three-to-five years. Areas of particular focus will include user interfaces, cognitive radio (a way to enable wireless devices to more efficiently share airwaves), technologies targeted at emerging markets, and what the company calls “context modeling” (applications that rely on information from sensors and GPS).

At Monday’s launch event, the company offered demos of some research projects already under development at its Palo Alto, CA outpost, including a phone playing a 3D movie. As Duncan Graham-Rowe reports today on our site, 3D displays are going mobile. In the Nokia prototype, the effect is created by projecting a different image to each eye and it requires specially-created content. Phones that contain two cameras could allow users to create their own 3D content, said Henry Tirri, worldwide head of Nokia Research Center.

Watching movies seems to be the only marketable application for non-holographic 3D displays so far. Last week at the Frontiers in Optics conference in San Jose, I attended a session where researchers lamented the inability of such displays to crack into the market. At that session, Gregg Favalora, the founder of now-folded Actuality Systems, said that his company should have focused on more gee-whiz, easier-to-market applications like displays for corporate lobbies. (Instead, they did the engineering first, coming up with some pretty amazing but expensive devices for projecting volumetric images of medical scans used to plan cancer radiation treatments.) Watching a 3D movie on your cell phone, or snapping 3D images on the fly, might offer just this gee-whiz factor.

Nokia researchers also showed a project based in Bangalore. The company supplies 65% of the mobile services in India, and most of these phones are limited to calls and text messages–they don’t offer GPS or Internet access. Deepti Chafekar, a researcher based at the Palo Alto Research Center, said the company is testing a set of location-aware services that are based on text messaging. For example, a user can send a text asking how to get somewhere, and receive directions in the form of a text message. User location is determined by proximity to cell towers. Another service being tested in Bangalore lets users display their location to someone they’re texting with.

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