The world is teaming with billions of sensors measuring everything from temperature and light to motion and video imagery. In the coming years, billions more of the tiny devices are expected to be spread across the world like so much digital dust. But the sensor networks of today and tomorrow won’t be able to fulfill their true potential unless it’s easier to build software applications and upgrade the capabilities of sensors that are already deployed. That’s why scientists at IBM Research in Zurich, Switzerland, invented a package of software called Mote Runner.
Mote Runner, announced today at a sensor industry conference, is both an operating system for wireless sensor networks and an application development platform. Our scientists hope that the software will help foster an explosion of creativity and business activity capitalizing on the Internet of Things–the myriad of devices that can be connected via the Internet, forming something like a central nervous system for the planet. (Check out the video: Internet of Things) “If you put a tool in peoples’ hands that’s easy to use, they will come up with amazing ideas,” says Thorsten Kramp, an IBM Research scientist.
The technology is available for free downloading to students and university researchers at www.alphaworks.ibm.com. It’s available for commercial purposes for a fee.
Kramp and his colleagues had previously developed smart card technology based on the popular Java programming language. They turned their attention to sensor networks two years ago when they saw that their use was expanding more slowly than many people had hoped. The reason, Kramp says, was that the most commonly used operating systems for sensor networks were difficult to write programs for–often requiring that people learn specialized programming languages.
Applications built on top of Mote Runner can be written in either Java or C#, two popular programming languages. In addition, since Mote Runner is a virtual machine, an application can be written once and run an a variety of sensor networks hardware. Mote Runner also makes it possible for these sensor networks to be upgraded with new capabilities dynamically.
One of the leading sensor network companies, MEMSIC, has agreed to distribute Mote Runner with its products starting in July.
But Kramp says this is just the beginning. He hopes that the introduction of Mote Runner will be a catalyzing event, and that other scientists and software programmers will develop their own, compatible platforms based on the same technical specifications.
By the way, the name Mote Runner comes from motes, which is the name for wireless sensor nodes, and Road Runner, IBM’s fastest-in-the-world supercomputer. Mote Runner won’t be especially fast, but, with luck, it will be big.