JXTA in Belgium!
JaDiMo is a very cool application that can do various things from finding an open parking space to booking a hotel room. It is written with JXTA and Java plus runs on everything from cell phones to desktops. What is really amazing is the number of business use cases they cover. They have very cleverly moved from their original goal of finding an open parking space to multiple patterns of time/space availability and reservation like hotel rooms.
I spoke with Steven Palmaers of the JaDiMo project to learn more about their application and the future of the project. So, on with the interview:
First give a quick explanation of what JaDiMo is and why it is important.
JaDiMo is a research project at the XIOS Hogeschool Limburg (http://www.xios.be), which is an institute for higher education in Belgium, comparable to a college in the US.
The project is co-financed by IWT and some commercial partner companies. IWT is the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders and was established by the Flemish government in 1991. They have a yearly budget which they use to support companies and research institutes financially. The JaDiMo project is financed by the so-called HOBU programme, which primary purpose is to research new, promising technologies. The proposed projects can have different subjects, such as medics, biology and ICT of course.
The main goal of the project is to research the use of JXTA in combination with J2ME. Most of the use cases have to do with the mobility problem. There is for example a carpooling system, a system to locate parking garages in a city and a system to locate restaurants or hotels. Most of the applications come as a web version, a desktop version and a J2ME version (both MIDlet as Personal Profile). The main purpose of the project is to provide our partners with a proof of concept of JXTA and P2P in general.
Tell us about yourself and the team.
The JaDiMo project team consists of three people: Marina Luwel, Nicky Eichmann and Steven Palmaers. Marina is the project leader, she’s also a Java teacher at the XIOS Hogeschool Limburg. Nicky and Steven work full-time on the project. Nicky and Steven graduated two years ago. Nicky holds a BS in Computer Science and Steven holds a MS in Computer Science.
How did it all get started? What made you think of the idea and use JXTA and P2P?
As we wanted to submit a HOBU project proposal, we were looking for a new, promising technology to do research in. A Belgian Sun employee pointed us towards JXTA, which was quickly becoming popular at that time (late 2002, early 2003). So the sentence “in the beginning there was JXTA” pretty much sums it all up. Once we had our technology, we had to think of possible applications. We defined several use cases, which all have something to do with the mobility problem. We also decided to use J2ME technology, as we wanted our applications to be usable on mobile phones and PDAs. After we submitted the project proposal, a jury rated the different project proposals. The JaDiMo project was one of the projects selected. January 2004 we started working on the project. All HOBU projects have a maximum duration of 24 months, so the project ends December 2005.
One thing that struck me as genius was how many of the modules are very similar like parking slots and hotel rooms. Do you look for matching patters to fit your first module or did you design your modules to fit multiple patterns?
As I stated before, in the beginning there was JXTA. We then looked at possible applications that could be developed in a P2P way. The first application we came upon was our carpooling system. This makes it possible to find a carpooling partner in real-time, without having to go through a cumbersome registration process on a website. One of our partners is an organization that organizes carpooling, lift services and home exchange services. So our first application can basically be seen as an electronic, mobile version of their system. The difference however is that our application is ad-hoc. As soon as I realize that I need to go somewhere, I take out my mobile phone or PDA and can immediately find other people travelling to the same destination.
Most other applications are also concerning mobility. For example finding a parking garage, finding a hotel or restaurant. So as it turns out, most applications can be send as “search and get” applications, which happen to be focused towards mobility. But it would be equally possible to create a self-organizing P2P dating agency. In fact it’s maybe not a bad idea to make the core functionality of our applications publicly available at the end of the project.
Another application that we developed is a bus application, that can be used by the bus companies to send delays to bus stops, track different buses (using a GPS receiver), …
On your web page, you list a lot of partners. What are you doing with them?
The project is co-financed by the Flemish government and some partners. We have one scientific partner, the Expertise Centre for Digital Media (http://www.edm.uhasselt.be) which is a research institute of the Hasselt University (http://www.uhasselt.be). The other partners are commercial companies or public organizations with up to 50 employees. In general those companies don’t have a budget to do research themselves. So in fact, we are investigating a new, promising technology, JXTA in this case, on their behalf. After the project finishes, the partners are free to use the applications that we developed. They can further adapt them to their needs and possibly commercialise them. Other partners simply see our research project as a ‘proof of technology’.
Every 3 months, we organise a user committee meeting, where we give a presentation about the recent evolutions of the project and the partners can give feedback or make suggestions. We also organized two technology days, which are in fact free courses for the partners’ employees. One was about JXTA and the other one about J2ME.
Has working with the partners helped the development and commercialization prospects for JaDiMo?
The primary purpose of our project partners, as outlined before, is to provide feedback during the user committee meetings. Our partners also have the right to further develop or adapt our applications to their own needs and possibly commercialise them.
In Hasselt (a town close to our institution) people are currently working on a wireless city implementation with all kinds of services. There have been some initiatives from one of our partners to propose some of our applications as services inside that project, but talks are still going on.
How do you describe P2P and JXTA to your clients and partners?
As we are a pure research projects, we do not have clients. Since JXTA is one of the main subjects of our project, we describe JXTA to our partners as a solid framework to develop P2P applications. We also organized a JXTA technology day, were our partners’ employees could follow a course to learn the basics of JXTA. So our partners have a good understanding of what JXTA is and what its possibilities are. Most people we talk to, and tell about P2P, almost always think of (illegal) file sharing or instant messaging when P2P comes up. We try to explain them that JXTA is much more than that.
What are you currently working on with JaDiMo?
At this time, we are fine tuning most of our applications. We are also working on some smaller applications that use JXTA. During the last weeks, we have also been working on a system for ‘event pooling’. The meaning is to reduce traffic problems around rock concerts, football stadiums, … Our system will allow people to register on a website or by mobile phone and enter their details (address, car available, …). The system will then automatically match users and send an e-mail or a text message to their mobile phones. They can then travel together to the concert or the sports event and so help reducing the traffic congestion that normally occurs. This application will be commercialized next year by one of our partners. It will probably be launched together with one of the major rock concerts in Belgium. JXTA technology only plays a small role in this application.
What are your plans for the coming years for JaDiMo?
The JaDiMo project ends December 2005, so we only have a few months left. After that, the project partners can further develop our applications to their own needs and possibly commercialise them. Unfortunately there will be no further active development on the JaDiMo applications. We will however keep an eye on the JXTA community evolutions.
Are you looking for help or certain types of partners for JaDiMo?
Currently, as the project is about to end in a few months, the primary aspect we are looking at is finishing the project up. So we are not actively looking for help.
What gets you excited about what you are doing with JXTA and P2P?
When we first looked at JXTA we didn’t really have a clue about what it was and what its possibilities were. Now, almost two years later, it’s amazing to see how many people are involved in the JXTA community and how much interesting applications are being developed. I hope that by working on our project, we can help to make JXTA more known in Belgium, and to prove that P2P is so much more than illegal file sharing. A lot of people just don’t realize that P2P can be applied in a lot of applications and domains.
Are you working on any other projects besides JaDiMo?
Currently we are not working on another project. However, when the current project ends, we are starting a new research project, again for 24 months. The (long) title of this new project is ‘OSGi as a framework for context-aware monitoring and updating software for mobile and embedded systems’. The short name will be OCoMIS. This project is in collaboration with the Expertise Centre for Digital Media, our current scientific partner. The primary purpose of the project will be to research the practical use of OSGi (release 4 specifically) combined with interactive television, mobile devices and domotics.
About the interviewer: Daniel Brookshier is seasoned Java veteran that is now a P2P/JXTA specialist. He has written several books on software and is currently working on a book about P2P patterns. He is on the board of directors for http://www.jxta.org and runs the P2P user group in Dallas.