Monday, April 16, 2007

Forget Multicores, Think Speckles

Prototypes of the so-called "speckled computers" will be presented at the forthcoming Edinburgh International Science Festival.

"Speckled Computing offers a radically new concept in information technology that has the potential to revolutionise the way we communicate and exchange information. Specks will be around 1 mm3 semiconductor grains; that's about the size of a matchhead, that can sense and compute locally and communicate wirelessly. Each speck will be autonomous, with its own captive, renewable energy source. Thousands of specks, scattered or sprayed on the person or surfaces, will collaborate as programmable computational networks called Specknets.

Computing with Specknets will enable linkages between the material and digital worlds with a finer degree of spatial and temporal resolution than hitherto possible; this will be both fundamental and enabling to the goal of truly ubiquitous computing.

Speckled Computing is the culmination of a greater trend. As the once-separate worlds of computing and wireless communications collide, a new class of information appliances will emerge. Where once they stood proud – the PDA bulging in the pocket, or the mobile phone nestling in one’s palm, the post-modern equivalent might not be explicit after all. Rather, data sensing and information processing capabilities will fragment and disappear into everyday objects and the living environment. At present there are sharp dislocations in information processing capability – the computer on a desk, the PDA/laptop, mobile phone, smart cards and smart appliances. In our vision of Speckled Computing, the sensing and processing of information will be highly diffused – the person, the artefacts and the surrounding space, become, at the same time, computational resources and interfaces to those resources. Surfaces, walls, floors, ceilings, articles, and clothes, when sprayed or “speckled” with specks will be invested with a “computational aura” and sensitised post hoc as props for rich interactions with the computational resources."

I have absolutely no idea what that last sentence means in English, but it sounds like an interesting research goal.


Giordano Beretta said...

Who is writing the operating system? Speckle computing reminds me of the Connection Machine, for which it was so difficult to write applications that it disappeared.

Neil Gunther said...

My understanding is that it's a consortium of Scottish universities.

You might have a point about the difficulty of programming these beasties. However, even if the speckles turned out to be just 1-bit ALUs (like the CM-1), I suspect the emphasis might be on distributed computing (weak parallelism), as opposed to the more conventional notion of (strong) parallel computing.