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Sun SPOTs: Programmable Devices for Java Developers

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On January 29th, Sun Microsystems released their Sun SPOT platform under the open-source GPL v2 license. Sun SPOTs are general purpose programmable devices built and controlled largely with Java technology. From the Sun SPOT website:

The Sun SPOT Device is a small, wireless, battery powered experimental platform. It is programmed almost entirely in Java to allow regular programmers to create projects that used to require specialized embedded system development skills. The hardware platform includes a range of built-in sensors as well as the ability to easily interface to external devices.

In addition to the transition of the platform to open-source, Sun is also now offering discounts for educational institutions for individual and bulk purchases:

"We created this technology to inspire students and educators to develop new, creative and useful applicationsit's the core of Sun's vision for Project Sun SPOT," said Roger Meike, research director at Sun Microsystems Laboratories. "Our decision to open source Sun SPOTs under a GPL V2 license reflects our commitment to support our growing community of developers, and our new pricing will enable educational institutions to bring this technology to students worldwide. Innovation happens everywhere and Sun is excited to be delivering new tools and technologies that will both inspire and facilitate development within new communities."

Sun SPOT technology is being adapted by the community for a number of purposes. Bruce Hopkins has written a Sun Mobility Tech Tip on utilizing Sun SPOTs for ultra-low bandwidth communication:

In the U.S. Department of Defense as well as in commercial industries, there are several applications that need wireless communication at low data rates (and consequently with low power consumption). For instance, most modern vehicles now contain tire pressure monitoring systems.

Have you ever wondered how the tire pressure sensor data is sent from each of the tires to the vehicle’s internal embedded computing system, and ultimately to the dashboard? Obviously, there are no wires to connect the sensors in the tires to the data bus in the dashboard. So, as you can imagine, there must be some mechanism available in order to retrieve the sensor data from the tire pressure sensors. Additionally, such a mechanism must be wireless and be able to operate for a very long time without interruption.

Terrance Barr also recently presented a number of video examples of individuals utilizing Sun SPOT technology in a variety of ways including:
  • Reading and presenting RSS feeds wirelessly.
  • Processing telemetry.
  • Sensing orientation.
  • Processing radio-wave signals.
  • Emulating the controller for a Nintendo Wii.
Sun SPOT devices are powered by the Squawk virtual machine which was written in part to be able to operate on resource-constrained devices such as the Sun SPOT:
Squawk is an open source virtual machine for the Java language that examines better ways of building virtual machines.  Most commercial virtual machines are written in low level languages such as C and assembler.  We believe that virtual machines can be simplified by writing them in a higher level language, and further simplified by implementing the VM in the language that the VM is implementing.
For information about obtaining Sun SPOT devices visit the Sun SPOT products page or read further about the educational discounts. For more information on the Squawk virtual machine, visit the homepage.

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