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A Gosling-Eye Glimpse of Java's Future

As a final send-up for last week's JavaOne trade show, we take a look at some of the things on Java creator James Gosling's technology agenda, including robotic store shelves and mobile Java on Mars.


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avaOne alumni know that if you want to get a true geek's-eye glimpse of the technological future, try to get close to James Gosling. This year Gosling, who is a vice president and fellow at Sun Microsystems and the uncontested father of the Java language, not only engaged attendees during the Wednesday morning keynote, but also provided daily show commentary in his Web log on java.net.

In the keynote, Gosling demonstrated everything from a medieval 'trebuchet' (which is a counterweight gravity-powered balance engine that can be used to fling things—in this case, Duke T-shirts) to the Real Time Specification for Java (RTSJ).


James Gosling

NASA is using RTSJ in the Rocky 7 research rover for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars Mission. Rocky 7 is being used to explore the geology of Mars. It's a small device, probably 2 feet by 3 feet, with an impressive set of features that all take advantage of the RTSJ. Rocky, he explained, is more powerful than a Hummer—not to mention more expensive. It requires real-time precision to be able to control the various steering and exploration components. These include three types of thread management: regular Java threads, medium temporal real-time threads, and way-cool no-heap real-time running threads so there is no garbage collection. There is also enhanced memory management that uses scoped and immortal memory. This is true end-to-end use of Java, from the ground systems controlling the devices to the little Rocky 7 strolling Mars. Who knows how far the distance between these two ends will eventually become?



That was just the first of the gee-whiz lineup. Gosling's demonstration of an industrial automation robot using auto-id tags on products was also impressive. Here's how it works. A J2EE server (using JMS, XML, and a standard app server) keeps track of the active inventory for a shelf full of CD products. The server monitors when a product is removed, in which case an auto-id tag (a small chip attached to the product packaging) causes the inventory to be decremented on the server and sends a message to to the industrial robot. The robot then packages and replenishes the product on the shelf. The new product is ready for shipping from the warehouse to the retailer within seconds. In the real world, this would allow a retail store to keep an up-to-the-second inventory, adjusting the data store every time a customer removed something from the shelves. The robot fits into this picture using an agile chip connected to an Ethernet controller via the network. It's an amazing glimpse of the power of the automated supply-chain that we'll be using shortly in conjunction with auto-id tags.

Maps, Jams, and Flapjacks
Other demos of interest included a GPS adapter attached to the base of a phone that uses a Web service to access real-time applications over the phone network. This would eliminate, for example, the need for CD maps to be used with GPS systems; no more worrying about having the latest maps on your device!

Gosling's next demo was not live, but it helped stretch the imaginations of those using P2P computing. Using dynamic data (the rate of travel of a car on a road using GPS) and the phone network, members of a location-based community can dynamically see, in real time, the traffic patterns on roads they might want to use. There are definitely some interesting applications waiting to be developed in this space, especially for weary metropolitan-area commuters.

I also had the chance to sit next to James at a pancake breakfast. With only about ten guests in attendance, the conversation caromed from the mobile market explosion in Hong Kong (where devices are worn as jewelry), to how a Java-enabled refrigerator can determine when the milk has gone bad (using the auto-id tags mentioned earlier).

Gosling says he likes that Java is being taken for granted, that it is appearing in all devices. "You like it when someone doesn't know you're there. The technology should be completely transparent. When the technology is visible, that's a bad thing. Someone doesn't want to have to boot-up a JVM to run their toaster."

While this is very true from an engineering standpoint, Sun's new consumer Java-branding push will help ensure that, at the least, consumers know that Java is in their toasters at all.

As always, seeing what James Gosling is up to these days gives us a glimpse into what we'll probably be working on in the near future.



   
Sue Spielman is senior consulting engineer for Switchback Software, a best-selling author of technology books including her upcoming titles, 'The Web Conferencing Book' (Amacom) and 'JSTL: Practical Guide for JSP Programmers' (MK), as well as a speaker on various Java topics around the country. Reach her by e-mail .
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