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Mittra receives grant to debug mobile-cloud applications


Elise King, Coordinated Science Lab

Assistant Professor Sayan Mitra recently received a one-year, $108,682 grant from Samsung’s Global Research Outreach Program to look into the problem of debugging mobile-cloud applications.

Mitra said that he and his students first noticed this problem while working on a recent project. “Last year we started working on distributed programs for mobile phones that control robots,” Mitra said. “(The phones) instruct the robots to do something interesting, like collaboratively find an object in a space or draw a picture.”

Sayan Mitra
Sayan Mitra

The high-level tasks may sound straightforward, but the programming did not prove to be easy.
“We found that it’s a nightmare,” Mitra said. “Although we had talented students writing these programs, we found lots of bugs, which came up because of message delays and concurrency…so we said, okay, how can we systematically go about finding why this thing is not working?”
Mitra said that soon this new debugging project took-off, which then led to a paper for the IEEE Real-Time Systems Symposium last year, and now the grant from Samsung.
In general, writing software for distributed systems can be a very challenging problem, Mitra said, especially when looking at types of software that control physical objects, such as the case with the phones and the robots.
“Finding bugs in such programs is hard because there are uncountably many scenarios to consider,” Mitra said. “The scenarios arise from different kinds of message delays, or failures in the communication network. What we are trying to achieve…is a systematic way of finding defects.”
Mitra said his approach to this problem will be to look at the actual code of the software and to collect information from the traces of the software as it is running. These two elements will be combined into what is called static dynamic analysis algorithms to find possible bugs.
Mitra said he was excited to have received this grant. “Samsung is an industry leader in this area of mobile computing…so the fact that they found our research interesting and possibly useful was encouraging,” he said.
Mitra is a researcher in the Information Trust Institute and is part of the Reliable and High Performance Computing group at the Coordinated Science Lab (CSL).