The intent of this research is to develop a wireless mobile computing paradigm consisting of cost-effective wireless broadband network, mobile phones, and relevant applications for underserved urban communities. To date, 3G cellular networks, the proposed deployment of urban-scale mesh networks, and penetration of data-ready mobile phones, provide an initial thrust towards this vision. However, this paradigm invites drastically different user experiences and usage patterns from both traditional personal computers based computing and cellular telephony. Consequently, fundamental research questions arise regarding the design of wireless mobile computing to support users from the targeted communities.
This project addresses these questions systematically, leveraging a CRI supported deployment of a large-scale open-access wireless broadband network in Pecan Park, an underserved Latino community in Houston, Texas and the distribution of experimental Wi-Fi capable mobile phones to establish a wireless mobile infrastructure there. The longitudinal study of this community's adoption and use of this network infrastructure will be performed using remote data collection and ethnographic fieldwork. The results will drive an iterative, value-centered optimization of the technology ranging from user-centered mobile computing design to community-driven network management. This approach utilizes multidisciplinary techniques including mobile computing, networking, human-computer interaction, and cultural anthropology to develop new research methods relevant to this emerging research domain.
Broader Impact. The experimental deployment in Pecan Park will provide low-cost access to information and communication technologies for its residents. Its success will demonstrate the potential of wireless mobile computing to address the digital divide for our nation's urban poor. It will produce lessons and insights for future deployments of wireless mobile infrastructures in other underserved urban communities, both nationally and internationally. The project will provide research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, primarily from underrepresented groups.