PsiNaptic bridges wireless communications

Perchance to dream – it seems the ultimate goal of distributed computing is to have seamless connectivity mitigated by a barely there wireless connection. Calgary-based PsiNaptic Inc. has launched a technology platform which binds wireless with embedded Java to create a network that will allow enhanced interaction capabilities to everyday objects.

The first generation product solution is for use in small microprocessors and builds on cross-platform Java-based software such as Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Jini and Open Services Gateway initiative, and creates a low-cost, small footprint distributed framework that original equipment managers and end users can live with.

“We provide solutions to OEM’s for deeply embedded distributed computing,” said Steven Knudsen, senior vice-president and chief technology officer at PsiNaptic.

“We tend to work with (OEM’s) to find out their needs are and what protocol they want to utilize…at the module level (it is) a programming environment that is based in Java and supports high level protocol such as Jini, OSGi, and Universal plug-and-play and makes their products more interoperable.”

PsiNaptic long predicted the convergence of Java, Jini and low-cost wireless networking, Knudsen said. The product will allow objects to communicate and exchange applications autonomously.

“What Jini provides is the ability to cross boundaries. When you want to move from one environment to another and you discover new devices or a new environment, Jini facilitates that. Instead of you having to introduce your device to other devices to get them to talk, Jini allows that to happen spontaneously,” Knudsen said.

“It’s like having your laptop…and you want to print something. You’ve gotta have the print driver loaded on your laptop and generally Windows carries a whole plethora of those things. You have choose the printer you think you’re talking to and you have to physically see it.”

With Jini, both devices would be on the network and because it’s based on Java, uploading the proper driver would be automatic, he added.

The goal, said Knudsen, is to develop the Jini platform into something it should be – low-level network communication that submerges everything under the Java level.

“Sun’s view of Jini has always been about including it on very small devices like PDA’s or things even smaller – something that might be embedded into an appliance, a centre network, a door lock inside a vehicle,”

“We’ve found a way of reducing the size of that software down to about 60KB. So it means that you can put it in some very small devices right now – we have been working with Motorola data processors, Dell semiconductor microcontrollers, 16 bit, 32 bit embedded processors…it’s just byte code that can be acquired and run locally to perform some useful tasks where it can provide some useful information.”

According to David Bocking, marketing and sales vice-president at PsiNaptic, the platform is targeted to different vertical markets: “We’re looking at the whole mobile device market ( PDA’s, cell phone), because we think that offers an interesting ability to interact. It’s a very dynamic platform – at any given day, you could be interacting with any number of different objects.”

Another potential market, Bocking noted, are the service gateways (healthcare, automotive, retail) – essentially anywhere there is a constant broadband connection.

“In the automotive area there is a lot of adoption of Java for automotive telematics, such as the networks within an automobile. Another segment is healthcare – if you need to do some kind of physiological monitoring, such as heart rate, pulse or blood glucose levels…we could provide a seamless transmission of those small devices back to electronic medical records,” Bocking said.

Distributed computing is evolving in the form of platform-independent technologies, said Alister Sutherland, software strategic acquisition consultant at IDC Canada in Toronto.

Sutherland noted that PsiNaptic’s technology is like middleware, or the glue that holds everything together – the technology is embedded into other products and PsiNaptic is concentrating on being an OEM supplier.

The big challenge ahead for PsiNaptic is in standardizing the platform, Sutherland said. The technology is still in its infancy and while it is good that PsiNaptic is ahead of the market, they have to convince OEM’s to deploy the technology, especially given the current industry economic environment, he added.

“We’re still in the early days of this kind of technology…but over time I do believe that (the platform) certainly will become much more prevalent and pervasive,” Sutherland said.