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ECE Professor Parham Aarabi and Amin Heidari (ECE MASc 1T1).

If you ever found yourself saying, “I wish there was an app for that,” now you have the tools to make it yourself.

A recently opened laboratory in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering invites members of the University of Toronto community to explore the new possibilities smart applications for smartphones and tablets can offer. Called the Mobile Applications Lab – or Mobile APL for short – the new lab is led by two faculty members from The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Professors Parham Aarabi and Jonathan Rose.

“We want to welcome minds from across the University to partner with us. Intelligent Apps – which combine the sensors, processing and user interaction capabilities of smartphones – are not just for engineers, but also for many other fields including the arts and medicine,” said Professor Aarabi, noting just a few of the fields that can harness the potential of this technology.

The lab is open to all faculty, staff and students at the University, regardless of their field of study. The intention, Professor Aarabi explained, is to harness the multidisciplinary power of U of T to identify new needs and approaches for intelligent mobile apps.

Apps have become the cornerstone of mobile computing. Now an ingrained part of the information age, apps offer entertainment or specialized support for all of life’s needs, from measuring your performance during a workout to staying in touch with friends and family. More than 500,000 apps are available through Apple as well as 350,000 for the Android market, with new ones being added every day.

The new lab is the first of its kind in Canada and joins just a small number of institutions, including MIT and Stanford University, in providing such a facility.

The new lab builds upon a course launched last year by Professor Rose on app development. Aimed at graduate students from across the University, the goal of the course is for students to produce a working app. Students with computer programing experience are matched with students from other disciplines. In teams of two or three, an app is developed that reflects on the non-programmer’s field of study.

Professor Aarabi explained that smartphones have provided the average person with a powerful computing tool. When he initially set up his research lab 10 years ago, which focused on facial recognition and noise cancelling technology, a huge investment in equipment was needed.

“With today’s iPhone, for example, all of the sophisticated and expensive equipment can fit in the palm of your hand. That makes it much easier to gather data and reduce our experimental research costs,” he said.

In addition, apps also have the ability to solicit almost instant user feedback for new computer technologies, which will make testing and refining easier than before.

“I think it’s a great place for developing your abilities to create applications,” said Amin Heidari (ECE MASc 1T1), who recently completed his Master’s degree under Professor Aarabi’s supervision.

The lab houses a variety of dedicated stations for application exploration, simulation, and testing, including iOS- and Android-equipped development stations. New platforms will soon be added and industrial sponsors are being sought to further guide the lab’s development. Additional information about the lab can be found on its website.

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