Blogger: Richard Monson-Haefel
You may have heard of a field of computing and electronics
called "Ubiquitous Computing" (a.k.a. "pervasive
computing", "everware", etc.) which has always held great
promise but has never taken off. Well, it’s about to and I suspect that the
product being introduced as a beta by Sentilla
will get things going and change the world as we know it.
Ubiquitous computing is the idea that everyday things everywhere are intelligent and networked. Is that a big deal? Why yes, because the possible applications of this type of technology are seemingly infinite and their impact will be immeasurable huge. The rise of ubiquitous computing, which thanks to Sentilla will take place sooner rather than later, is what I refer to as a Technami: A mega technology trend that fundamentally alters our world. To give you some context, other technamis include the internal combustion engine, the telephone, the computer, and the Internet. Technamis on the rise include genetic engineering and nanotechnology. And now I can add "ubiquitous computing" to the list because, for the first time, it actually seems feasible on a grand commercial scale.
The best way to express this is through example - more technical or
architectural explanations tends to lead people away from what is most
important, which is the practical applications of ubiquitous computing.
In the future automobiles will have, on average, tens of thousands of sensors arrayed throughout the vehicle. Some sensors will measure heat; others pressure, speed, force, and so on. Your tires, pistons, seat cushions, headlights, gas filter, spark plugs, and everything else will have a built in sensors, sometimes many of them. All these sensors will automatically network together and with programming, communicate with actuators and gages to allow your car to adjust immediately to changes in conditions and to report the smallest change to the driver or to diagnostic devices. Sensors today are about the size of a quarter and draw so little power that their small batteries last them years. If you buy new tires, your new tires will automatically join the sensory network without you having to do a thing. The same is true for any other part on your car.
Another example is a home security system. Imagine you go out to Wal-Mart and buy a bag of security sensors that can detect movement or sudden changes in velocity. You stick each sensor, the size of a quarter, on all your windows and doors and then install some software in your computer after which you have a complete home security system. Each sensor will relay any motion or change (e.g. breaking window) to other sensors and eventually to your computer which can call the police, set off an alarm, or text message you when there is a break in. The home security system cost you $99.00 and you installed it yourself in the time it takes to put stickers embedded with sensors on all your windows and doors.
Imagine sensors in every item of packaged food you buy from the grocery store. Each food time, via its sensor, can connect up to your home fridge the second you put them on the shelf. Each item reports its temperature, expiration timing, and can report spoilage all of which allows the fridge to automatically adjust temperature and air flow and to alert you when something needs to be done (like take the spoiled yogurt out of the fridge).
I could go on but I'm afraid I'm selling the technology short. Not only are Sentilla sensors, which they call "Motes", able to network they are also programmable using standard Java ME. In fact, Sentilla plans to offer an Eclipse based IDE and frameworks so that the average Java programmer can fashion and easily deploy their own applications out of a heap of sensors. Different Java APIs will be provided for different sensory capabilities. This is why Sentilla's new platform is so important - it makes it possible and feasible for the average developer to create a pervasive net of sensors that use peer-to-peer communication over wireless networks to communicate, coordinate and report on just about anything. The limit to these types of systems is your imagination. I don't know about you, but my head is exploding with ideas for commercial products. The best part: I will be able to eventually (after the beta is over) buy Sentilla motes, their IDE, and the frameworks I need to build anything I want. How cool is that?
Update: James Gosling just blogged about Sentilla's motes here - a little link love for the Father of Java.