Spray-on computers – they’re a thing of the future, but they’re a thing of a much nearer future than you might imagine.
Within the living memory of people who have yet to reach retirement age, there was a time when a computer needed its own room. Many of us are both old enough to remember when you couldn’t carry a computer anywhere, and also young enough to witness technological change so rapid that computing hardware could be small enough to fit in a spray nozzle.
We’re running an event called Future Things, on Tuesday, 11 September in collaboration with Professor DK Arvind of the Centre for Speckled Computing at Edinburgh University, who works on this technology, and Software Alliance Wales.
What is speckled computing?
Professor Arvind has a project that centres on building computers that are 5 cubic millimeters in size. That includes everything: the PSU, the aerial, the keyboard, the inputs, and the outputs. With these computers, almost anything can be made “smart”, including surfaces, and even the body itself.
On his journey to making that computer, he’s producing smaller and smaller computers and asking end users to see how they use them to transform some of the things we do every day. They’re not small for the sake of it, but in order to create “specknets”, which he explains in this lecture , “link the physical world of sensory data with the virtual world network of computers.”
One of the coolest examples is called Project Duende. It involves wiring up a flamenco dancer who wears tiny computers on her hands, arms, hips, legs, feet – and they sense her movements every 256th of a second. So as she dances, two things happen: they capture her motion and animate it in real time, but they then feed that motion into a synthesizer so that the movement of her body generates the music to which she is dancing.
Other applications for speckled computing technology
It’s more important than ever that we develop structures and communities that allow us to develop applications for technologies that develop so quickly, to find ways that they can help improve our lives.
The tiny computers Arvind develops have been used in health research, too. People have used them to look at gait analysis in ways that helps them study why older people fall more frequently. These microcomputers can provide non-invasive ways to look at heartbeats, blood flow, and cardiopulmonary performance, detecting small movements in the chest cavity.
The Centre for Speckled Computing has seeded people in the spheres of digital media, health, environmental monitoring, and art, giving them specks to play with, to see what they develop.
Our contribution is to help the people on the tech side think a bit more entrepreneurially, about the potential for this technology to change people’s lives for the better. What could speckled computing mean for tourism, for other aspects of the health service, for the food industry?
If you had a computer the size of a matchstick, what things would you invent?
To find out more about joining the Inventorium workshop on speckled computing visit http://www.inventorium.org/events/future-things-workshop-11th-sept/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on August 1st, 2012 by Jenny