We all would have seen in James Bond and Star Trek flicks, how James Bond operates his car, sends messages using his wrist watch and how captain Kirk and Mr. Spock talk to each other using their wrist watches. I used to see Star Trek during my childhood days and used to wonder how these things are possible. Now technology has come a long way and these things are very much possible. In this article, I'm going to discuss about a technology that is in his infancy, but has a potential for making what was shown in these films possible in real life. That technology is a initiative of Microsoft and its called Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT). I will also discuss some of the initiatives taken by other companies with regard to the smart wrist watch market.
What is SPOT?
SPOT stands for Smart Personal objects Technology. SPOT is a Microsoft initiative. It can be defined as a set of technologies which improves and integrates the functionality of objects we use everyday like wrist watches, alarm clocks etc to provide high value personalized information. Microsoft has described SPOT initiative as being aimed at improving the function of everyday objects through the injection of software. The first type of devices targeted by SPOT initiative is wrist watches. Bill Gates unveiled some of the first prototype SPOT wrist watch design during his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2003.
Features of SPOT wrist watches
In addition to providing the basic functionality of time, chronometer, calendar, alarm and timer functions, SPOT wrist watches provide features like
- Automatic time adjustment based on location.
- Customizable watch faces.
- Access to intelligent information like Sport scores, Weather updates, Stock quotes. Traffic reports etc.
Components of a SPOT wrist watch
A SPOT wrist watch has a ARM CPU which runs at 28 MHz. For memory, It has got 512K of ROM and 384K of SRAM. For display, it has got a digital screen which is 120 x 90 pixels. In addition to the components needed to manage time, a SPOT wrist watch also contains a radio chip consisting a tiny 100 MHz radio frequency receiver. The radio chip is used for accessing intelligent information. Another key component of a SPOT wrist watch is the network or service provider that delivers information to the SPOT wrist watch. Regarding the operating system used, Microsoft is going for a new embedded operating system rather than going for Windows CE or Windows XP Embedded.
How does SPOT wrist watches work?
The working of a SPOT wrist watch can be compared to the working of a pager or cell phone. The common technology these gadgets use is radio waves and service provider. To use these gadgets we have to subscribe to a service provider or network and the service provider sends intelligent information to these gadgets using radio waves. To know more on how a radio works, refer this article.
SPOT wrist watches have a service provider which Microsoft calls DirectBand. This is a one way network ie data flows only in one direction. The network uses radio waves to send information. Naturally when the data is sent through radio waves, there will be a frequency in which the receiver of data has to listen to receive those data. Each type of these intelligent information like stock quotes, weather news are sent at different frequencies. The SPOT wrist watch listens to these frequencies to receive those intelligent information and stores them in the memory of the ARM chip. The information stored in the memory is displayed in the digital screen and synchronized at regular intervals.
Microsoft is currently working with Fossil, Citizen and Suunto to produce SPOT wrist watches for consumer market. The first SPOT wrist watches are available in consumer outlets from early 2004. Various SPOT wrist watch models are being introduced.
SPOT Service providers
Microsoft has introduced its MSN Direct service. MSN Direct Service offers various subscription plans that fits the budget of consumers. MSN Direct is available in more than 100 of the largest population centers in North America.
Microsoft is very excited about SPOT as a initiative and is planning to spend over US $5 billion in research and development. They are working with companies like National Semiconductor to define and develop embedded technology that would address the challenging power, cost and physical size constraints of the SPOT wrist watches. It maybe too early to comment about the feasibility of this technology. Still effort has to go in reducing the physical size of SPOT wrist watches at the same time increasing the set of features provided in it and the quality of the service . It's a great challenge for people involved in it.
Other Smart wrist watch technologies
Even though the basic principles and components of the smart wrist watches remain same, companies providing alternative technologies are competing to offer smart wrist watches which are light weight and at the same time have more features. Here are details of some of the companies who are making initiatives in the smart wrist watch market.
- IBM Researchers are successfully running Linux and X11 (a popular graphics library) on a device about the size of a wrist watch to demonstrate the viability of the operating system across all platforms. Designed to communicate wirelessly with PCs and other wireless enabled devices, the smart wrist watch will have the ability to view condensed email messages and directly receive pager like messages. In addition, the watch will provide users with calendar, address book and to-do list functions. Future enhancements will include a high resolution screen and applications that will allow the watch to be used as an access device for various internet based services. For more details refer this article.
- In addition to manufacturing Microsoft SPOT smart wrist watches, Fossil is also manufacturing smart wrist watches running Palm OS. The hardware components are same for both kind of watches. For more details refer this article.
I sincerely hope that this article was informative and useful to all of you in getting a high level overview of not only Microsoft's SPOT initiative but also the initiatives made by other companies to improve the quality of these gadgets.