So yesterday Fedex delivered a nice red box at my doorstep! It is always nice when a company spends a bit of effort on designing the box; this package reminded me of my first TomTom, a company that also took care in making the unwrapping experience fun.
The content was a BUG with 4 modules. The BUG itself is the core computer that drives (hopefully) cheap modules. The core contains a small LCD, a minimal joystick, a push button and 4 LEDs that can also be pressed. It is powered through a separate (universal) power supply. Unfortunately, the also present small USB connector is not used to power the device; it is only there for the communications with the development computer. A slide-switch acts as on-off button.
There are 4 modules included:
- LCD Display
- Motion Detector
The development environment is based on (surprise!) Eclipse, called DragonFly. They told me to use Eclipse 3.3 (Europa) but I decided to live risky and use my current 3.4 Ganymede copy of Eclipse. At least this way I can only blame myself for some of the things that did not work. DragonFly replaces PDE but there are a number of similarities. Also, the manifest file is the driver for the generation. Overall it was very simple to write a new bundle when you are familiar with Eclipse. DragonFly nicely creates a complete project for you with the classpath setup correctly.
For debugging there is a pretty good emulator that reuses the same Java code and implements the services that abstract the devices. You just ask a project to "Debug As" and the select the Virtual Bug. Very smooth. Once the Virtual BUG is running it appears as a device in the list of Bugs. You can drag and drop your project to these devices and that will install them. This drag and drop interface works very well for device management.
The runtime is of course the most interesting part of this device. It runs the (now) open source PhoneME project. This is a CDC VM that supports most of the core Java SE libraries. On top of this VM, BUGLabs uses a Concierge framework. Concierge took the decision to not move to Release 4 but stick on Release 3 because of size reasons. This makes my feelings toward concierge slightly ambivalent. Release 4 added some very important changes that I hate to miss. I know that size matters, but the difference is not that dramatic with today's memory prices. Ok, I prefer OSGi over no OSGi, but staying behind on release level is very tricky. Lots of bundles now use the Bundle.getBundleContext() method, like Declarative Services, which is not part of R3. Also, the modularity layer got an important boost in R4. However, the biggest problem is compliance. Concierge was not tested for compliance and with the OSGi's current rules we cannot certify it anymore. During the development of R4 we seriously discussed the problem of the size the new features would take. Siemens, who had their own OSGi implementation for the vehicle market, even did a study to the impact. We very consciously decided that these new features were worth the added memory. I guess there is not much we can do about this, but it is a pity that we now have a split in OSGi, a split which we tried to avoid so hard. Anyway, better an OSGi R3 than no OSGi I guess ...
I decided to build a little application to get a feel for the whole thing. I decided to build an automatic camera that would take a picture whenever the GPS indicated that you had moved more than 50 meters. The track thus created would then be available over a web interface. Formatted as a KML file, it can be displayed in Google Earth. Simple.
Well, writing the application was quite smooth and the debugger was great. Getting it to run on the device was a bit harder because it just did not take pictures. It took some time to figure out how to use the Concierge shell. Even that did not help, there was something with the GPS service. Anyway, I guess with some help this will work before the community event. See if I can get my trip to Berlin recorded!
I wish I had had this device while I was working for Ericsson Research in 1998. It is absolutely perfect for trying out automation scenarios. I remember soldering an IO board, a movement sensor and a mobile phone to demonstrate a burglar alarm system based on sending a picture to the police. This scenario would have been a snap with the BUG.
So what are the application areas for the BUG? If you are one of those lucky people that can now and then wander from the virtual world into reality, then this is abslutely your device. You get a quite powerful computer that can be extended with a snap, ehh, 4 snaps. Obviously, if you still can get excited of what you can do with computers (like me), then it is just too much fun to miss. And if you give OSGi tutorials, well, this kind of device makes OSGi shine.
This is not to say they have arrived. BUG labs still has a lot of work carved out for them. The success will depend on amount of modules they can turn out in the coming years. I wish they had developed a breadboard module first so other companies and individuals could make modules. In earlier times I played a lot with the PIC processors from Microchip and it would be quite easy to interface these into the system. Also, a 1-Wire interface would be really fantastic. 1-wire devices are relatively cheap, and very easy to interface. For a few dollars you could extend a BUG with a temperature sensor, humidity sensor, unique ids, switches, cryptography tokens, etc. Remember the famous Java ring? Well, that was a 1-wire device.
The development environment and the documentation also require some work. As a true open source project they use a Wiki for their documentation so do not hesitate to help to make the BUG more popular. There is also a need for more BUG modules as well: Wifi, audio in/out, power switches, video, bar code readers, proximity detectors, RFID readers, fingerprint readers, Zigbee I/O, Bluetooth, infra-red, geiger-tellers, etc., etc.. There is a mighty amount of work awaiting them.
I really do hope other companies will pick up this concept and start to leverage it. Again, I wish I had had this device in 1998 when we were struggling to create demos!
P.S. But what on earth is the Teleporter module going to do???