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Pervasive Smart Dust - will it include Java?

Posted by bboyes on May 3, 2008 at 1:23 PM PDT

The idea of smart Java dust becoming pervasive is compelling (consider the SunSPOT technology, including the Squawk JVM). If Sun really wants this to sweep the market, there has to be a path to make small commercial Java systems extremely easy to develop and affordable to license. Then, every individual or small shop with a bright idea can afford to implement it, and will want to.

Yet the typical Java license fee is in the range of US$ six figures (per year). Does this license model support the kind of widespread adoption which Sun claims to want?

"Wait a minute - isn't Squawk open source?" you ask. Yes, but 'open' is not necessarily 'free'. Squawk is free for non-commercial use, while for-profit use requires the typical ME license fee mentioned above.

Industry-wide, interest in 'smart dust' is becoming so widespread that other vendors (such as Texas Instruments, which now owns Chipcon, the vendor of the radio chips used in SPOTs) are launching low cost, open standards wireless sensors initiatives, based on the new generation of 2.4 GHz radios.

The recent Embedded Systems Conference hosted a TI eZ430-RF2500 seminar packed with 500 (my guesstimate) people who all walked away with an MSP430-based (the same chip family used in Sentilla motes) wireless sensor kit. The eZ430 kit (which is 2.4 GHz but not 802.15.4-based) is $49 including 2 nodes (one with a battery) and an Eclipse C-language toolkit. Or get the 802.15.4 (with free Z-stack Zigbee) version for $99. These prices are a long way from $10 (the oft-quoted price of a truly 'pervasive' dust mote), but not unreasonable. There are no hidden tools or license costs - TI just wants you to buy their chips. TI is not alone - you can find similar offerings from Cypress, Atmel and others.

None of the TI solutions support Java (but the Sentilla option does - and look for some news from them at JavaOne). Sentilla mote prices are TBD and early dev kits are a few thousand dollars). The (more advanced) SunSPOT kits are now $750 to the general buyer, $300 or perhaps free to educational users.

Yes, these are different devices -- SPOT is a much more capable platform in terms of processing capability and included sensors. So comparing the Sentilla or eZ430 to SPOT is not entirely fair. But if the goal is smart dust, these are the best offerings which each vendor has chosen to create. Someone else could create a lower cost SPOT and sell it... oops, well, they would have to consider the licensing issues first.

Industry analysts predict that indeed smart dust will become pervasive. But will it be Java dust or C/other dust? Consider the above links, dev kit prices, and licenses and then you decide where things are heading. If Sun wants developers to have the choice of pervasive Java smart dust, something needs to change, and it needs to change soon.

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