Web server fits in shirt pocket

A Stanford University professor has created what is believed to be the world’s smallest Web server, the size of match-box, which was designed to ultimately be worn by a user.

Using off-the-shelf hardware and software, computer science professor Vaughan Pratt invented a Web server measuring less than 1.75-inches high, 2.75-inches wide and 0.25-inches thick.

The tiny Web server consists of an Advanced Micro Devices Inc. 486-SX computer that has a 66MHz central processing unit, 16MB of RAM and 16MB of flash ROM. The server connects to the Internet via the PLIP point-to-point network protocol, utilizes a Jumptec parallel port and, runs at about 27KB per second, and works off a “a useful amount of Red Hat Linux 5.2 including the HTTP daemon that runs the Web server,” according to Pratt. Even running at 100 per cent CPU usage, the server drains only 2 watts from its 5V power supply.

The Web server can be wired into the power supply of a desktop computer or driven by battery, said David Salisbury of the Stanford News Service. The university does not have plans to produce or market the server for commercial use, he said.

The Web server is powering a Web page that contains a picture and description of the computer and provides instructions on how the matchbox-sized computer was built. The page (http://wearables.stanford.edu/), which debuted Jan. 22, received over 80,000 hits by the month’s end.

The Web server can be carried inside a shirt pocket and hooked into a wireless modem, Pratt said. Plugging the server into special glasses that double as a computer display allows the user to monitor the server.

“There is an informal community of researchers working in this area, where the idea is basically that if computers continue to become more indispensable and smaller, sooner or later it makes better sense to wear them (computers) than carry around them around,” Salisbury said.

There is significant potential for wearable computers in the future, according to Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group Inc. “This class of product will expand as people reach a point when they are almost always connected.

“Having a portable, personal Web device opens the door to a number possibilities, such as sharing and updating all kinds of information, in real-time,” Enderle said.

Wearable computers will emerge in the market over the next two to three years as wireless technologies become more pervasive, he said.

The Web server is one of the first projects undertaken by Stanford’s Wearables Lab, established within the last year by Platt. The lab develops computer technology that can be incorporated directly into clothing.

The Wearables Lab is now working on a future version of the server, which will be based on the Intel Corp. Pentium chipset, Stanford said in its statement. The group plans to combine a credit-card size Pentium motherboard, introduced last quarter by Cell Computing, with a 340M-byte hard drive from IBM Corp. that measures a fraction of an inch thick and less than 2 inches on a side.

The next version will be capable of running the complete Windows operating system and a voice-recognition program, said Pratt.

The lab is also working to develop a special glove that recognizes a digital sign language, called Thumbcode, which is intended to replace a computer keyboard.