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UH Engineer Earns NSF Grant to Improve Cell Phone User Experience

By: 

Ashley Schwartz

Xin Fu, assistant professor in the UH Cullen College of Engineering’s electrical and computer engineering department, earned a $410,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to customize smartphone designs and processors to better suit the needs of its vast array of users.

Smartphone manufacturers have traditionally expected their customers to adapt to their devices. But with the diverse group of smartphone users now ranging from teenagers to CEOs, manufacturers are exploring ways to adapt smartphone technology to meet the needs of all its users.

“Currently, our smartphones are uniform to everyone,” said Fu. “The goal of this research is to improve the user experience by learning individual users’ preferences.” 

To learn these preferences, Fu is focusing on two major factors; the user’s personality and their environment or circumstances.

“A user’s personality can be conservative or aggressive. A conservative user’s priority may be the battery life of the phone, whereas a more aggressive user cares about the speed of the device or the quality of the screen,” said Fu.

Fu also explained that a user’s circumstance could have an effect on their priorities.

“A conservative person may only care about the battery life until they find themselves in an emergency. In that case, the phone’s response time and accuracy becomes more important,” she said.

Fu, along with electrical and computer engineering students Kaige Yan, Chenhao Xie and Xingyao Zhang, will consider these factors to create computer systems that are able to intelligently and automatically customize their configurations to satisfy each individual user.

Fu said she believes this research has the potential to go beyond improving smartphone user experiences and could be applied in healthcare and education fields.

“This technology could be used in healthcare to adjust to the needs of patients with various illnesses or disabilities,” Fu said. “It could also be applied to education by helping to engage students, because they are likely to become more interested in what they are learning if they are using a technology that’s tailored just for them.”

Fu is the director of the Efficient Computer Systems (ECOMS) Lab at the Cullen College, which is dedicated to exploring cross-disciplinary approaches to construct high-performance, low power and reliable computer systems.

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