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Project Brief

Open Competition 3 - Information Technology

Building for Radical Interoperation

Develop a novel interconnection technology that permits a wide variety of digital devices and services to interoperate without pre-installing driver software.

Sponsor: Palo Alto Research Center

3333 Coyote Hill Road
Palo Alto, CA 94304
  • Project Performance Period: 10/1/2003 - 9/30/2006
  • Total project (est.): $4,144,240.00
  • Requested ATP funds: $1,657,696.00

The incessant stream of new devices and services has brought greater convenience, flexibility, and productivity to digital technology, but achieving easy interoperation among them has remained elusive. Establishing interoperation is a long and costly process, requires agreement on every layer of communication protocol, and usually occurs only when broad industry consensus exists. Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) will develop an interconnection technology that will establish a "meta-standard" for interoperation among digital devices. The objective of this three-year project is to enable devices to communicate upon hook-up without pre-installing driver software, offering the possibility of automatic configuration and backward compatibility. The software comprises three "meta-interfaces" that use mobile code to establish interoperation agreements at runtime. The discovery meta-interface establishes initial communication, the data transfer meta-interface manages protocol requirements to send and receive data, and the control meta-interface allows the user to control the interoperation. Enabling different devices and services to work together through meta-interfaces makes rewriting software, updating software, or installing drivers unnecessary. Technical challenges include: 1) compatibility with legacy devices (old but popular devices), 2) reckoning with devices unable to run mobile code, 3) designing mechanisms that protect copyrights of content providers and protect user devices from intrusion, and 4) developing an architecture that can cope with a variety of platforms and languages. Venture capital groups think that this project is too early stage to justify funding. ATP funding would allow PARC to accept the high technical risks inherent in this three-year research project. If successfully developed, the technology would allow non-technical users to combine devices and services to build customized applications to serve their purposes. As a simple means for dealing with evolving standards and backward compatibility, the technology should lower the rate of product obsolescence and its associated costs. By mitigating compatibility problems for new devices and services, the technology would likely promote innovation. In time, this technology could broadly improve productivity by allowing more non-technical users to utilize networked devices more effectively, without being deterred by vendor-based particulars. As the penetration of the technology in the home increases, PARC will begin to integrate the technology into families of consumer electronics products. Several large consumer electronics manufacturers and software infrastructure providers are interested in becoming commercialization partners after the feasibility of the technology is demonstrated.

For project information:
Tracy Kugelman, (650) 812-4085

ATP Project Manager
Barbara Cuthill, (301) 975-3273

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