The tiny (yet powerful) world of speckled computing

Networks of small devices that can sense, compute and communicate data emerge from lab

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Arvind: We are concentrating on three application areas for specks: Healthcare, environmental monitoring and digital media.

In healthcare, we have developed the Respire speck which can monitor respiratory rate/flow, heart rate, and activity levels. It has undergone clinical trials in Edinburgh hospitals for postoperative care in hospitals and has been deployed in the community to monitor remotely COPD patients in the comfort of their homes. The Orient speck has been used in mobile gait analysis and remote physiotherapy.

On environmental monitoring, we are developing specks with GPS, accelerometer, and magnetometer to analyse the behaviour of wild horses in southwest Spain. The information of interest are the areas visited by the horses, times spent resting, running, feeding and their social behaviour -- which horses spend time with others which is useful to study the spread of disease. The specks are currently undergoing trials in a herd of horses (not wild) in Edinburgh and will be deployed in Spain in 2013.

Other applications are the monitoring of the environment in buildings and greenhouses to optimise usage of energy.

In digital media, we have developed on-body wireless specks for full-body, 3-D motion capture in real-time. This has applications in 3-D animation, user interfaces, biomechanics, dance, sports (analysis of golf swing).

From the Lab: What are the greatest practical challenges to speckled computing? Cost? Power supply? Wireless reliability?

Dr. Arvind: The greatest challenge is taking great care in the design of the speck architecture, firmware, networking protocols, distributed algorithms so as to optimise energy usage.

From the Lab: Is there any danger of a Specknet being compromised? Are they inherently insecure?

Dr. Arvind: Not necessarily. The data transmitted by specks can be encrypted for wireless transmission which is an overhead, of course.

From the Lab: How long do you think it will be before “ubiquitous computing” truly is as common as electricity?

Dr. Arvind: We have come a long way in the last 10 years. Speckled computing presaged the "Internet of things" by a good many years! When the research community was talking in terms of wireless sensor networks, it was clear to me that it was not the sensor data but the analysis of the data on the specks, at the edges, to extract information in situ was the key and its connection to the rest of the IP network with the advent of the IPv6 protocol and the accompanying explosion in addresses. I do believe we will get there but cannot be precise when.

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