Devices that phone home

For some years, there has been discussion about how embedded devices are increasingly becoming connected. WiFi enabled home appliances are one possibility. Everyone has heard about fridges that order the groceries. I love the concept of the Internet enabled toaster, which checks the weather forecast and burns a symbol onto your morning toast to tell you what to expect.

All of this is great, exciting even, and we are moving in this direction, but there are other possibilities that have hardly been touched yet. There are a few issues with WiFi devices: they need to be in range of a wireless network, they consume quite a lot of power and their implementation may be overly complex, if only small amounts of data need to be transferred and that transfer is just unidirectional. There must be another way …

What about cellular telephone technology? We think in terms of cell phones as being devices that let two people talk or exchange text messages. But there is no reason why one or both of the communicating parties could not be machines.

Let me posit a real world example. My father is 80 years old and has a heart condition. He visits hospitals for regular checks, but cannot be monitored 24/7 without totally constraining his lifestyle. He would benefit greatly from having a device that constantly monitored his heart function and periodically sent the critical data [via an SMS – enough capacity, cheap, low tech and easy] to his doctor. He could then be recalled if worrying trends were observed. Maybe it could go a step further: if the device also had GPS functionality, it could be programmed to detect a serious problem and automatically place the 911 [or, in the UK, 999 or 112] call. I would be very pleased to buy one of these for my Dad’s 81st birthday.

Why are such devices not yet available? Or, at least, not widely so. A significant reason is the complexity of putting all the parts together. In software terms, there is the need to integrate the cellular communications stack with an OS and build applications on top of that. This is all possible, but somewhat specialized and expensive. The current results of such efforts are high end smart phones.Android

Things are changing. Unless you have been living in a cave for the last year, you cannot fail to have heard of the Google Android platform. This open source software provides a pre-built integration of cellular communications and an OS, with a well defined application interface.

So, what is the problem? My credit card awaits.

There will be more on Linux and Android in this blog in the weeks to come, as Mentor has just announced its strategy. I will be interested in your comments.

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Posted July 27th, 2009, by

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About The Colin Walls Blog

This blog is a discussion of embedded software matters - news, comment, technical issues and ideas, along with other passing thoughts about anything that happens to be on my mind. The Colin Walls Blog

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7 comments on this post | ↓ Add Your Own

Commented on 27 July 2009 at 13:54
By Zeeshan Mahmood

Great ideas… I am surprised at the coincidence that few days ago I was discussing similar ideas (wireless communication devices) with my friend to make final year project for my graduation in Electrical Engineering. We were thinking to make a First-Aid Robot… Although we found very ineffective substitute of manly first-aid but we got a hope to explore this functionality and feature in other ways. Then we came to the idea of robot nurse…. it was also not a good substitute of actual nurses (and definitely a robot can never be substitute of compassionate female nurse for men… 🙂 )… Then we stopped thinking after failure of getting feasibilty and pragmatism out of these few ideas… Buh now after reading your blog a passion to rejuvenate these ideas is hitting my mind… I hope I will think on it… and could come up to an idea having similar effectiveness as you want…


Commented on 28 July 2009 at 03:40
By Eduardo

Freescale has some very cool applications and white papers in the area of personal medical devices:

Many of these propose Zigbee and/or Bluetooth as a means of communicating to another device, such as as cell phone to transmit data remotely. Particularly interesting to your post is a video featured in that page called: Freescale and Monebo’s ECG-On-a-Chip.


    Commented on 28 July 2009 at 08:31
    By Colin Walls

    Good input. Thanks Eduardo.

Commented on 10 August 2009 at 22:52
By Jason

I noticed this recently and it reminded me of your blog:


Commented on 11 August 2009 at 09:04
By Colin Walls

Thanks for the link Jason – interesting. A significant step on from the use of inductive communication.

Commented on 2 September 2009 at 20:15
By Nilanjan Palit

Commented on 3 September 2009 at 10:23
By Colin Walls

Nilanjan: This is a very interesting development, but not quite what I had in mind, which would be portable and much, much smaller.

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