Building tech’s next big device

Name: Will McGrath
Major: Electrical and computer engineering
Year: Senior

Hometown: Arlington, Virginia

Tomorrow’s tabletops: Will develops applications that combine tabletop computing displays with mobile devices. Tabletop computers are an emerging technology that will become ubiquitous among work groups in educational and corporate settings. Will is developing an app, first on the Android platform, that would allow a user to share files by setting their smartphone on the tabletop and then flicking the file in the direction of another user.

Functional furniture: Could there be a day in the very near future when office conference tables, classroom desks, coffee shop stands and other public space furniture house a computer designed to interact with smartphones? Will thinks so. He predicts, “We’ll see it appear within the next five years.”

Putting social back in social media: In Will’s vision of the future, he sees a scenario in which he and some friends are trying to pick a place for lunch. After launching an app on their phones, they place them on a tabletop computer and then let the computer sort through their preferences and show a map of what’s available.

Sharing your life: “In this age, your phone displays what makes you up as a person,” he says. “The apps you have and the data in those apps are the data of your life.” By simply setting your phone on a tabletop computer, you could share photos, videos, files or other personal information. “The phone becomes your identity — set your phone down and you have joined the collaboration.”

Collaborative tool: Current mobile displays are too small to have several windows open at once or to let everyone in the room see what’s being displayed. That’s an obvious advantage of tabletop displays, but Will suggests another benefit. “Tabletop displays have room to offer processing power thousands of times that of a smartphone,” he says. “If you need to do a large calculation, render a video or do some other computationally complex task, you might just set your phone on the table and let it do the calculations. The tabletop could do in a second what would take your phone hours.”

Elite of the elite: As a Beering Scholar, Will received a full-ride scholarship to Purdue through both undergraduate and graduate school. Each year, Purdue invites applications from approximately the top 100 applicants — fewer than 10 are chosen.

Next steps: Will hopes to continue both his academic career and work for a major corporation. He interned at Intel Corp., where he observed how corporate engineers worked together and saw the potential for more efficient collaboration.

By Steve Tally