Java inventor James Gosling building smart marine robots

Robots use satellite-based remote controlsto cross the wave-pitched seas

James Gosling, the inventor of the Java programming language when he worked at Sun Microsystems, finds the security framework for Java he designed still stands up after all these years. In fact he's using it today to design marine robots that can be sent across the ocean to gather weather data or carry out research projects.

"I'm using all the crypto APIs and the sandbox APIs and the Java DE [development environment] and NetBeans," says Gosling, now chief software architect at Liquid Robotics. Gosling, is helping design marine robots that use satellite-based remote controls (plus cellular signals when close to shore) to cross the wave-pitched seas, sometimes for months at a time, to do jobs like collect weather data or monitor pollution levels.

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The programming for the robots is based on Java, and the robots are basically a "platform for sensors," says Gosling. The latest marine robot being completed is designed to be more aware about its environment so it can navigate more on its own without remote control or preprogramming. There's also work being done to optimize communications since satellite use can be expensive and bandwidth-intensive. He notes, "It's all Java code, a new generation of robots that's all Java on the inside."

The Java programming language that Gosling created, now in its seventh edition, has expanded its security structure but sticks to its basic principle of the security sandbox set of rules to ward off hostile code, while also offering ways to implement public-key infrastructure, authentication and access control mechanisms, among other security features.

Gosling said the Java sandbox was a core concept inspired by observing how Windows code years ago was shipped back and forth and the security problems he saw. "I spent a long time thinking about why these security problems were so bad," he recollects. He says the sandbox architecture today "works fine" and the high-level security policies and authentication and crypto remain "really solid." Many millions of software developers today make use of Java.

Gosling, who modestly attributes Java's success to the contributions of respected colleagues at Sun where he spent 26 years, left Sun just six weeks after it was acquired by Oracle in 2010 following what were some difficult business years at Sun.

At that time, the mighty Google -- which happened to be embroiled in a software patent lawsuit with Oracle, over the Java APIs no less -- came after Gosling, apparently hoping that hiring this legendary software developer would work some sort of coding magic there.

"Google is a funny company," recounts Gosling. "When you interview at Google, they don't tell you what the job is. You get hired for a pool and the reason they do it that way is they don't want outsiders learning their secrets in the interview process."

Gosling joined Google as "member of the technical staff," with the idea he would poke around for a while and see what happens.

"It was a 'without portfolio' kind of job," says Gosling, but sparks failed to fly and Gosling left Google after six months. He joined the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup Liquid Robotics founded by Bill Vass, a friend who'd been president and chief operating officer at Sun's federal subsidiary.

Gosling's major complaint about his current position? He doesn't have the fun of going to Hawaii as much as the mechanical engineers on staff where the marine robots are tested because the software programming he manages can usually be done remotely in Sunnyvale.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: @MessmerE. Email: emessmer@nww.com.

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