Smart Net drops PCs, keyboard and mouse

Enabling people to access computers and collaborate on digital content without using the traditional computer, keyboard or mouse is part of the vision of researchers at the Smart Internet Technology CRC, which launched Project Nightingale this week.

Aiming to integrate technology with social and behavioural research, Project Nightingale is being developed in conjunction with the University of Sydney’s school of information technologies and National ICT Australia.

Smart Internet’s project leader and Sydney University senior research fellow, Dr Aaron Quigley said the “smarts” of the technology lie in the software that manages context information to make data management work effectively.

“The software stack consists of three planes for data, context, and applications,” Quigley said. “The data plane consists of a data manager that comes in contact with other interfaces for data exchange, the context plane handles attributes like location so the data manager knows priorities such as bandwidth and average time of [network] connection, and the application plane has more general implications.”

To demonstrate the technology, Quigley used a “diamond touch” device from Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs to move and re-size a collection of images, which can be used by many people simultaneously to share digital content such as images.

“In the personal LAN (PLAN) space end users don’t care if the network is wireless or ATM, as it’s a personal environment to the user,” he said. “The data plane can push information towards you, for example in a personal server, so you have access to it [during collaboration] and when you go away it gets sent to bigger storage such as from a service provider.”

Quigley said a smart Internet will extend the idea of a “scrapbook” such that “every individual is a content producer”.

“Most of the software development is done under Linux and SQLite is used as the data manager,” he said. “The personal server runs Linux and the devices are lean and mean. Linux can be carved down to the bone and allows us to test things quickly.”

Smart Internet Technology – a joint venture between industry, universities and the commonwealth and state governments – is also working on a character recognition interface to Internet applications, like e-mail.

By using an infrared pen, people can bypass the keyboard and mouse and write commands like ‘read’ and ‘delete’ which are interpreted and acted upon by the computer. Text-to-speech responses are also a feature.

Quigley said this technology could easily be applied to businesses where collaboration is required but computers are not intuitive, for example residential care and hospitals.

“We come up with the application scenario then the corporate partners say ‘that’s what we want for our business’,” he said.

Nightingale is a three-year project with about $500,000 funding per year.

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