PARC Labs Links Up Home Devices

Researchers at the pioneering PARC labs have developed software that allows all consumer-electronics devices to communicate with one another, making networked home devices easier to use.

The Palo Alto Research Centre, a subsidiary of Xerox, on Tuesday will announce Obje, a software architecture meant to establish a common language to tackle one of the biggest hurdles that content and device makers face as they try to make playback of digital media easy on all devices: compatibility.

Industry groups, such as the Digital Home Working Group and the UPnP Forum, have been formed and new standards developed so that consumers will be able to more easily use media regardless of format on any type of device. Insiders say that when consumers find it easier to use digital media, they will be more likely to purchase devices that can play it back… It also means instant access to resources on a wired or wireless network, said Hermann Calabria, principal of business development at PARC.

“We’re not trying to say you can just play audio and video on one device,” Calabria said. “You’ll be able to do that on any device [connected to a network] in a room, whenever you want.”

Obje essentially allows devices to teach each other how to communicate with one another. Code is sent to the devices over a connection, either a network or a direct connection. Establishing the language is nearly instantaneous but depends on what is being transferred, Calabria said.

The software is meant to be device-, OS- and network-agnostic but does need some sort of virtual machine. So far, PARC researchers have gotten Obje to work on a Hewlett-Packard iPaq device with 32MB of memory. Obje is also compatible with other networking technologies and does not need to be loaded on every device in the network to work.

PARC is focusing on the consumer electronics market where manufacturers have said that ease of use and interoperability is essential to customer use. PARC has spoken with several companies about turning the technology into a commercial project but would not disclose names. Deliverable software is not yet available, but the concepts are mature, Calabria said. PARC is looking to license the technology.

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