Saturday Oct 09, 2010

The Web of Things and Sun SPOTs

You've probably heard about energy meters that can tweet your electrcity consumption, digital picture frames that can download photos from Flickr, phones that let you track their location on the Internet, and weighing scales that can post your weight on the Web! Clearly, the Internet isn't just a network of computers any more. It is quickly evolving into the Internet of Things.

For the first time ever, more devices than new human subscribers came online with AT&T and Verizon last quarter. This is just the latest data point to validate what many have predicted -- the number of Internet-connected "things" will soon be orders of magnitude larger than the number of users and traditional computers.

Internet enabled things

"The main idea of REST is to design applications which implement their functionality completely as a set of URI-addressable resources, with HTTP being the [uniform] access method for interacting with them. In such an application, there is no need for any special interface, the application fully blends into the Web ..."

-- Erik Wilde, Putting things to REST

The Web of Things is a vision where such everyday objects are seamlessly integrated into the World Wide Web (WWW) using its well-known standards and blueprints, e.g. URIs, HTTP and REST. My colleague,David Simmons, and I offered a hands-on lab titled "Building the Web of Things with Sun SPOTs" at the recently concluded JavaOne 2010 conference. It presents the motivation, key concepts and relevant technologies behind this vision. All of the lab material -- introductory slides (see below), coding exercises and accompanying instructions -- is now available publicly. You may browse it online or download it as a ZIP file.

Tuesday Jul 14, 2009

Sun SPOTs, SPOTWeb and Sensor.Network

Sun SPOTs are tiny, battery-powered, wireless computers that can be programmed in Java. Different types of sensors (e.g. GPS, temperature, humidity, proximity, light) and actuators (e.g. servos, motors) can be attached to these devices for use in a wide range of applications. It has been more than two years since we started selling these and they've proved quite popular with students, researchers and hobbyists (see here and here for some pictures/videos of Sun SPOT-based projects from around the world). This blog entry discusses two web-based services - SPOTWeb and Sensor.Network - for interacting with these devices and collecting, analyzing and visualizing data from attached sensors.

The SPOTWeb service lets remote users interact with a network of SPOTs using a standard browser. Authorized users can monitor the state of sensors, applications and other system statistics. They can also install, start, pause, resume, stop and remove applications. In the following video, I walk you through many of these features (I recommend the HD-version in full-screen mode to minimize the blurriness of on-screen text). You can follow along on your own by downloading the latest SPOT SDK (red-090706 at the time of this writing) from and running SPOTWebDemo (it is one of the new demos bundled with the red release).

Sensor.Network is a web-based service for sharing, visualizing and analyzing sensor data collected from a variety of sources, e.g. mobile phones, automobiles, datacenters or embedded devices like the Sun SPOT. Besides supporting a heterogenous mix of data sources, the service supports multiple sensor installations, each of which could potentially be owned by a different entity. It places a strong emphasis on security and privacy concerns and gives researchers and scientists fine-grained control over how their data is shared with authorized partners. Additional details are available in this article. The service is still under development but the following video filmed during JavaOne 2009 provides a good overview of the currently available functionality.

Last month, I demonstrated SPOTWeb and Sensor.Network at a meeting of the Sensor Web Enablement working group at the Open GeoSpatial Consortium (OGC). The OGC is an international organization that develops standards for geospatial content and services, GIS data processing and data sharing, e.g. KML (used by Google Earth) and Sensor ML. Both of these are of interest to our potential customers like the USGS.

We are currently in the process of integrating SPOTWeb and Sensor.Network more closely and finalizing a REST-based API for Sensor.Network that would allow others to input, retrieve and share their sensor data with strong access controls.

The Internet started out in 1969 as a network of four nodes (it was called the ARPANET back then). Today, it has grown to over half-a-billion nodes that include not just computers (mainframes, servers, desktops, laptops, netbooks) but also PDAs, smart phones, automobiles, industrial equipment and home appliances. New technological developments, like the ones outlined here, promise to extend the Internet's reach to even smaller, more ubiquitous devices turning it into the "Internet of Things".


Vipul Gupta


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