A mock-up screenshot of a social networking application called "MarkIt" that allows people to upload and share their routes. -Courtesy Photo from senior software engineer Kareem Nassar

The next time you’re stuck wondering if there’s an application for available phone reception in your area, the answer could be right down the hallway, where students are creating state-of-the-art programs for 24 “superphones” donated by Google.

Associate professor Dr. David Janzen and assistant professor Dr. Chris Lupo from the computer science and software engineering department received a Google Faculty Research Award in August, which included a $20,000 grant between the two of them. The purpose of the award is to support academic research and promote a relationship between Google and academia. With a limited number available, the awards typically last for one year and range from $10,000-$150,000 depending on the type of research. Faculty from Purdue University and Stanford University were also among those awarded funding from Google for 2009.

In addition to the grant, Janzen and Lupo’s primary contact at Google, Cal Poly alumnus and professional software developer Mark Lucovsky, encouraged the donation of the 24 T-mobile G1 phones using Android software as a gift from the Android team at Google in April.

“Google wanted us to use the technology and do something interesting,” Lupo said. “There’s a buzz associated with (the Android software) and the market will continue to grow significantly.”

Dr. Lupo is teaching a senior project class, ENGR 470, which focuses on capstone projects or team-based designs extending over multiple quarters. One of the projects pitched by Lupo is a heart-rate monitor that connects to the android phone imitating the functionality of a fitness computer.  Danny Walker, a computer engineering senior is part of the project.

“Our application will effectively replace a bike computer,” Walker said. “It can track your heart rate statistic, your speed and your type of workout. It will also use GPS to determine your location.”

What makes the project unique is the combination of expertise that the team described as “handy.” This includes six engineers of different types: four computer, one biomedical and one industrial.

“We have people who are looking at the actual scientific data analysis side of the project … to someone looking at the application side and how the user is going to be interfacing with this,” Walker said.

“I think we have the right mix of majors to do this kind of project,” industrial and manufacturing engineering senior Brian Hockenmaier said.

Nathan Angel, a biomedical engineering senior, and Felix Turgeon, a computer engineering senior, are working on the circuitry to filter the heart-rate signal as well as the packing system: a waterproof case that will wear against the chest and a micro-controller for the athlete.

“It would have been really hard for all computer engineers to filter a heart-rate and know what to do,” computer engineering major John Leehey said.

This winter, the same idea was proposed for the iPhone, but has yet to be implemented. What would set this team’s heart-rate software apart from the iPhone is the ability to support multiple devices such as HDC, Motorola, Samsung, Dell and LG as well as being able to use Bluetooth.

“Because the device is so timely, it feels less disposable and less like a toy. It’s something they can take with them into their careers,” Lupo said.

The project is due to be completed at the end of this school year.

Powered by the donated phones, Dr. Janzen is also teaching a brand new mobile application special topics course in which students are given the opportunity to design their own applications. The teams are encouraged to publish their ideas to the Android market Janzen said.

“We can use (the phones) to get students excited about computing,” Janzen said. “They are writing things that could live well on past this class.”

Janzen is constructing a competition for the best application judged by a team of experts from places like Level Studios in San Luis Obispo and Skyhook Wireless in Boston. Skyhook Wireless provides geolocation services for the iPhone and Android. Some of the teams in Janzen’s class are using tools provided by Skyhook. Janzen explains how his class is doing a variety of really exciting and practical applications.

A prototype of "Sleeping Cycle" -Courtesy photo from Lucas Jarosch

One group is working on an application called “Sleeping Cycle.” It’s an alarm clock that has a movement sensor. By placing the phone next to your bed it can detect what sleep phase you’re in based on movement, said Lucas Jarosch, a senior exchange student from Germany working on the project. His partner is Andrew Hughes, a software engineering senior.

“The alarm wakes you up at a specific time before you get back into a deep sleep phase,” Jarosch said. “Some students already have this on their iPhone, and they say their mood is better and they aren’t as tired.”

Starting the project last week, Jarosch explains how they still have to study the human sleeping cycle as well as implementing an algorithm. He also points out the alarm won’t be your standard annoying ring, but will fade in slowly over a ten-minute span with classical or nature sounds that slowly get louder.

A mock-up screenshot of an application called "Reception Mapper" -Courtesy photo from graduate student Thomas Dvornik

Other students’ projects include “Droititarian,” an application that notifies you of good deeds you can do, “Reception Mapper,” a map of available phone reception and “Punchd.”

Reed Morse and Grantland Chew, both computer science seniors, are working on “Punchd,” an application for virtual buy ten get-one-free cards. They are talking to customers like Quickly, Campus Dining and Jamba Juice. The idea is for businesses to have a bar code that a Droid owner could use to scan on to the phone’s video camera. A GPS system could see if you are actually at that location and would put a “virtual punch on your virtual card,” Chew explained.

“I have a thin wallet, and I don’t like having a lot of things in it,” Morse said. “I was thinking about something that bothers me and these stupid cards bother me.”

Programs like Twitter and Facebook will also be linked to the application, so when people do get “punchd” or when they redeem a card it will show up on their personal pages if they so wish. The team also wants to have an interface for businesses by creating a website that could tell owners statistics on how many people are getting “punchd” on a regular basis.

“Filling apps is a new big thing,” Morse said. “Our goal is to have all the businesses in town using ‘Punchd’ codes.”

Even outside the classroom, the students have the phones at their disposal at all hours.

“I could put my sim card in (the G1 phone) and use it as my own phone,” Morse said. “But if you go to the party and lose it, you have to pay $400.”

The total cost of all 24 phones donated from is Google is roughly $9,600.

The class will be holding a project fair open to the public to demonstrate their applications on Mar. 12 outside the Frank E. Pilling Computer Science Building. There will also be free downloads as each team is required to put a version of their application on the market as a trial.

Google is advocating for open source development to make this technology available to the world Janzen explained. The company is interested in getting more people to make more applications for the phones. The Android platform, currently at about 20,000 applications is competing with the iPhone, which has over 100,000 applications.

“I wanted to encourage teams to do something that benefits mankind or that’s entrepreneurial,” Janzen said.

Some of Lupo and Janzen’s students will be applying for innovation quest, a contest put together by alumni and faculty that rewards Cal Poly-produced ideas. Three prizes of up to $15,000 are given as funding for student-proposed projects, which would help to get the applications into production.

“In both courses, students are more engaged in their work then with other technical classes,” Lupo said. “I think they are excited to be working on something state of the art that feels very real.”

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