Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Hardware/software toolbox for rapid prototyping of devices with embedded sensing and awareness

'Lancaster Smart-Its' are a hardware/software toolbox for rapid assembly of embedded devices and smart artefacts. The toolbox is an extensible device building device that enables prototyping with different configurations of wireless network, sensors, actuators, and software for customisation to particular physical design contexts.

The primary design rationale for DIY Smart-Its is to achieve short cycles between design idea and lab prototype, and ease of reproduction by outside developers. This was motivated by the dilemma observed in related R&D, i.e. that applications of smart artefacts cannot be developed without suitable hardware, while the design of suitable hardware depends upon an understanding of how the hardware fits into the application environment. However, rapid prototyping of smart devices clearly has uses beyond R&D, e.g. in design processes and education.

To achieve the design goals underlying DIY Smart-Its, a purposefully simple implementation of the device architecture: a core board provides processing and communication, and add-on boards integrate physical interaction components. The core board includes a PIC microcontroller, 8KByte FRAM, and a transceiver module for wireless communication operating on 433.92MHz with raw data rates of up to 160KBits/s in half duplex mode. The core boards are available in a compact form factor for embedded operation and in an extended version that provides a serial interface and larger battery pack. The add-on boards are connected over a standard interface to a core board to provide physical interaction components that are controlled by the core MPU. In the simplest case an add-on module can be a single sensor but more commonly they integrate a group of sensors and/or actuators. A variety of add-on boards are available as part of a growing toolkit but additional ones can be build by adapting a generic board design or by designing dedicated boards.

DIY Smart-ITs are programmed in C. Application developers are provided with libraries and tools that provide programming abstractions at multiple levels. At the lowest level, drivers shield the developer from hardware detail, both on component level (sensors, actuators, memory, power supply, processor) and on board level (physical connections between components). At application level, application interfaces and code libraries are provided for the set of tasks a Smart-Its application typically involves. These are acquisition of sensor data, processing of sensor data to application-specific context, communication of context events to other devices, and reaction to context events.

DIY Smart-Its have been developed and evaluated in conjunction with so-called hackfests: workshops with external developers in which participants had the opportunity to develop simple context-aware embedded devices. More than 40 participants attended the hackfests from more than 10 different institutions active in ubiquitous computing and interactive systems research. None of the participants had had prior practical experience in hardware design, yet all succeeded in building their first functional device within one day; and more complex systems composed of multiple Smart-Its were constructed in two to three days.

The particular advantages of DIY Smart-Its observed in workshops include:
- Significant reduction of the development time: instead of several weeks, developers are now able to construct system demonstrators within days.
- Significant reduction in knowledge and skills required from developers: even developers without expertise in hardware design are now able to construct complex sensor-based context-aware devices and systems.

- Support for reuse: existing hardware and software components can easily be reused for new systems; similarly, hardware and software components can be exchanged between systems.

- Support for adaptation and modification: existing Smart-Its devices can easily be modified by adding or removing sensors together with the respective software modules.

Developer workshops have been effective not only as evaluation tool but also for dissemination of the technology. DIY Smart-Its have been adopted widely by research groups in the area of ubiquitous computing. The use potential however extends much further, for example for research into creativity and problem-solving with tangible devices, and for development of new educational media.

Reported by

Lancaster University
Computing Department
LA1 4YR Lancaster
United Kingdom
Folgen Sie uns auf: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Verwaltet vom Amt für Veröffentlichungen der EU Nach oben