The Mobile Applications Lab is Canada’s First Laboratory for Mobile App Development

With Apple recently signing a $30 million deal for an iPad rollout in Los Angeles public schools, it’s evident that we’ll be seeing a lot more of mobile in our classrooms.

The University of Toronto is also actively acknowledging the prevalence of EdTech, as its engineering department houses The Mobile Applications Lab, Canada’s first lab space for mobile application development. Launched in late 2011 by a pair of professors from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, The APL is a space for undergraduate and Master’s students to collaborate on design and thesis projects in both iOS and Android.

We had a chat with Dr. Parham Aarabi, cofounder of the APL, and he told Techvibes about the origins of the lab and his view on mobile’s role in the future of higher education.

“Two years ago, we realized the opportunity with mobile and we’re just beginning to see its impact on society and academia,” says Parham. “So we thought we could have a center where there’d be computers and devices they could test on, and mentors with experience building apps to help them out.”

While Parham’s research is focused on the capabilities of sensors, cameras and microphones in mobile devices, his cofounder, Dr. Jonathan Rose, is a pioneer in the area of Field-Programmable Gate-Array, which are computer chips that can be rewired dynamically to suit the users’ needs. For example, while Parham might be focused on how sensors can make mobile devices more intelligent, Jonathan would be more interested in discovering how computing elements, such as rewiring computer chips, might make a smartphone 10 times more powerful and capable. Using the APL as a nexus point, Parham and Jonathan are offering students the privilege to be at the forefront of mobile application design and research.

When literally left to their devices, students at the APL innovate, and the Extended Touch “keyboard” is a same product of that unbridled creativity. An iOS app that allows for the creation of virtual interfaces on any flat surface where a mobile device sits, Extended Touch lets the user take remote control of their mobile device. By taking into account acoustic signatures generated by tapping on various parts of a table, the vibrations are then picked up by microphones on the mobile device.

What kind of day-to-day uses does Extended Touch have? For the gaming crowd, think about playing a drumming game or air hockey on any flat surface. For a more practical use, think on delivering presentations with extra mobility. By defining a few keys on a surface, the user could go forward, backwards and zoom in on specific slides without having to touch the mobile device. Intrigued? Look for Extended Touch in your tech news feed, as Parham and the APL team will be demoing the project for Silicon Valley companies and media as well as debuting the technology at a signal processing conference next month.

Along with directing projects at the APL, Parham also teaches a graduate course on Advanced Mobile User Interfaces and lends his expert prediction on the evolution of university curricula, thanks to mobile innovation. “Most universities are heading in that direction, and they’re beginning to see the potential with mobile is so huge,” says Parham. “I think that in a short time, within 5-10 years, every programming course we teach will be on a mobile device.”

Want to stay in the APL loop? Make sure to mark April 2014 on your calendar, as senior students are currently plugging away on a project codenamed “Jedi Wars,” which will involve quadcopters in a high speed race. The mobile device-controlled bots will be flown across the engineering building and out into the open air in a public showcase.

Until then, watch the exciting EdTech space in Toronto. If it’s mobile-related, it’s likely that the APL has a hand in it.