I Get Stars in my Eyes over Sun SPOTS
By Janice J. Heiss on Mar 09, 2008
Sun SPOTs are a magical technology (at least to yours truly), based in Java ME and developed by Sun Labs, that have vast potential – a claim that has credibility given that more than a billion cell phones run on Java ME. Sun Labs developed Sun SPOTs in an effort to make sure that the gadgets of the future run on Java as well. It’s an experimental platform designed to make it easy to create the next big thing, or more likely, things, whether it’s a toy, communication device, sensor, network of communications – virtually anything that can be enhanced through a smart wireless network. It’s the most recent celebration of Sun’s motto – the network is the computer – only it’s the wireless network that makes for this computer.
It’s all about using wireless sensors to gather data and send it to a central source which can enable interaction with the environment. The Sun SPOT Device is a small, wireless, battery powered experimental platform programmed almost entirely in Java that allows programmers to create projects requiring specialized embedded system development skills. It fits in the palm of your hand. The hardware has built-in sensors as well as the ability to easily interface to external devices.
Each SPOT kit contains two complete, free-range Sun SPOTs (with processor, radio, sensor board and battery) and one BaseStation Sun SPOT (with processor and radio). Also included are all the software development tools and cables required to start developing applications. The BaseStation connects to a development machine -- a PC -- and allows developers to write programs that can run on their PC and use the BaseStation's radio to communicate with remote Sun SPOTs. The development tools also make use of the BaseStation to deploy and debug applications on remote Sun SPOTs. The initial Sun SPOT development software has been tested on Windows XP, Macintosh OS X 10.4 running on both PowerPC- and Intel-based hosts, Linux (Fedora Core 5, SuSE 10.1 and Ubuntu 6.06), and Solaris x86.
I was intrigued when Angela said that Sun SPOTs are being researched by industry for uses that remind me of 1999 and the fantasies of the smart home. I remember the days when Jini technology was being considered as an extension of Java that would enable everything to be networked, so if you have access to one entry point of technology on a network you have entry and control over all. You could turn off the lights in your house from your computer, or use your stereo to defrost your refrigerator – go figure. Your light bulbs would inform your computer when they were getting dull. (There’s a joke or a parable there somewhere but I can’t quite figure it out.)
People used to wonder if anyone would really want a smart home. It’s the old problem with technology: Because you can do something, does that mean you should? Well Angela informed me that industry is using Sun SPOTs in cars so that if you rush off to work in your car after quickly ironing your shirt, and suddenly panic that you didn’t turn off the iron, you can use Sun SPOT technology from your car to connect to sensors in your home to assuage your fears and, if need be, turn off the iron to prevent your house from burning down. Sun SPOTS here I come! This is perfect for someone like me, someone who could leave the iron on and then worry about it the rest of the day.
Sun SPOTs can be used wherever wireless sensors are needed to gather and transmit information. The hardware and software for Sun SPOTs has been open sourced, much to the delight of students, who Angela reports are very enthusiastic about Sun SPOTs. They want to be able to modify the hardware and software infrastructure and extend the functionality to meet their needs. So they want nothing to be hidden.
Sun Labs staff engineer, David G. Simmons, has an extremely helpful Sun SPOT blog that is worth checking out. And even YouTube has some 40 Sun SPOT videos with slot cars, a pumpkin that screams and talks when shaken, video games and more to check out. Also, for more on Sun SPOTs check out Roger Meike’s blog; he’s senior director of area 51 and director of operations at Sun Labs.
Down the road look for a java.sun.com article on Sun SPOTs. It should be fun.
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Janice J. Heiss