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The T-Engine platform for embedded systems development is a technology that might make the grand visions of ubiquitous computing a reality—provided society’s mindset also surges ahead as fast as technology does!
Arguably, technology is now progressing much faster than a decade ago—but how? In more ways than one, this can be attributed to the shift towards openness and standardisation. Today, the time taken to bring a tech product to the market is remarkably low. Designers do not necessarily have to create a product from ground-up. Instead, they can put together existing ‘intellectual property’ components procured from various sources, and within weeks the product is all set to invade the market. Developers can pick and choose from pre-fabricated software modules, ‘mash’ them up, and serve up a lovely application to users within days.
This, however, would not have been possible in the absence of a common platform on which the many components could be built, linked and orchestrated. If this platform is open and standardised, the possibilities get richer—GNU/Linux and the wealth of free and open source software is a quintessential example of the advantages of openness.
The T-Engine platform extends the same logic to the embedded systems world. By providing an open, standardised real-time operating system (the T-Kernel), hardware (the T-Engine board), and object format specifications, the T-Engine project enables the creation, distribution and use of varied middleware—and consequentially, the cost-effective and quick development of embedded systems. As a common platform, the T-Engine syncs the work of chipmakers, hardware manufacturers, and software and systems developers, enabling them to bring products to the market faster than ever before.
With the dual benefits of security and standardisation, the open-sourced T-Engine makes a leap towards ubiquitous computing.
Ubiquitous computing—the very concept is exciting and scary at the same time. Imagine a future where everything, from traffic signals to the microwave oven and air-conditioner in your home, have ‘computers’ in them . These take orders, perform tasks and network with other computers that are ‘always-on’! The moment you cross the last traffic signal on the way back home, a signal is transmitted to your home, and the heater/cooler starts up, so that your living room is cosy when you enter. When you come within a few feet of your house, the gate ‘detects’ you by communicating with your car, your mobile phone or perchance even a chip in your outfit, and opens! When you wish to play music aloud from your mobile digital music player, it connects ad-hoc with the concealed speakers in the room and starts playing. No user-interfaces, menus, set-up, or hassles! The possibilities are endless.
But the moment you picture such an environment, several basic requirements and issues immediately surface. If embedded systems are to be spawned at a rate capable of filling every significant object in this world, there should be easily-reusable components and extreme cooperation between all players in the electronics and computing value chain. This, in turn, needs an open, standardised platform to develop these embedded system components. Plus, if there are networked computers everywhere, the chances of identity theft are high—for instance, if somebody is able to electronically ‘disguise’ themselves as you, all your property falls within their control! So, embedded systems have to be crack-proof. The T-Engine platform, spun off from the legendary TRON project, is a potential means of overcoming these concerns.