I've got two free Sun SPOT Java Development Kits (value $550) for ZDNet readers who...

I've got two free Sun SPOT Java Development Kits (value $550) for ZDNet readers who...

Summary: Three Friday’s ago, I announced ZDNet’s Deputy Tester of the Week program. The following Monday, in search of our first deputy testers, I offered three free copies of PPTMinimizer 3.

TOPICS: Open Source, Oracle

Three Friday’s ago, I announced ZDNet’s Deputy Tester of the Week program. The following Monday, in search of our first deputy testers, I offered three free copies of PPTMinimizer 3.0 to the members of ZDNet’s audience who needed a utility like that for compressing PowerPoint files into more manageable sizes (for whatever reasons). There were over 175 responses to that giveaway (not including some of my own replies to some questions that were asked).

Last week, I put two ID Vaults from GuardID Systems up for grabs. In the first week, a few people complained that what I had to give away was of nominal value. Proving you can't make everybody happy, others complained about the rule whereby, if I give something away that's worth more than $600, the recipient is responsible for paying any taxes. This weekI have two more items to give away and they are neither nominally valued, nor do they invoke the $600 tax rule.

Valued At $550 each, I am giving away two Sun SPOT Java Development Kits. So, what's a Sun Spot JDK. It comes from the folks in Sun's Labs and SPOT stands for Small Programmable Object Technology (not to be confused with Microsoft's SPOT -- Smart Personal Objects Technology). Sun SPOTs (at least this initial version of them, there will probably be others) can fit in the palm of your hand and are essentially tiny wireless Java Virtual Machine-based computers. In other words, their programming can be modified for a wide variety of applications to which these little devices might come in handy. For example, with six analog interface, a Sun SPOT could be the heart and sole of an unmanned vehicle. Or a robot (like this one I spotted at JavaOne 2007).

Or, there could be applications where Sun SPOTs talk to each other. Not only do I show a demo of this in the above video, I bring the basic idea home with an example that anybody who has seen the movie Twister will get. Do you remember in that movie how the main idea was to get those little balls launched right into an active tornado? Well, if those balls were Sun SPOTs, not only could they collect an extraordinary amount of data, they could talk to each other in an effort to correlate the data they're gathering and pass that information (or results) along to some base station.

One of the more interesting features of Sun SPOTs is how their programming can by dynamically changed -- sort of the way androids on Star Trek have can have their programming changed. Not only can these changes be made via a USB cable, they can also be made wirelessly. The Sun SPOT JDK comes with two "free range" Sun SPOTs and one base station Sun SPOT (which can wirelessly transmit instructions to the free range Sun SPOTs).

In the video, you'll hear Sun's pitch for what's cool about them well as see the Sun SPOTs in action. The bottom line is that, while I can imagine all sorts of applications for Sun SPOTs, I'm not qualified to test them (although imagining the possibilities is enough to make me want to take six months off just to bone up on my Java programming and try a few things out). I did however set one of the Sun SPOT JDKs up on one of the Windows XP-based virtual machines that I've loaded into a Lenovo Thinkpad X60 tablet running VMWare Workstation 6. Loading the JDK wasn't exactly a point-and-click operation. The instructions tell you that you'll need to tweak some Windows settings before the NetBeans IDE (included) will be able to successfully load a Sun SPOT with code. But for developers, this sort of thing is child's play.

To participate in ZDNet’s Deputy Tester of the Week program, there are some rules and regulations that you should read (to keep our lawyers happy). Then, using the ZDNet TalkBack facility on this blog entry, make your best pitch as to why I should send one of the two Sun SPOTs I have here in my office to you.

Keep in mind we’re looking for people who are can tell us why they’re the most qualified to test the product in their real world environments. And then, once you receive the product, I’d love to hear back from you regarding your findings. Even if I don’t, you get to keep the product. Finally, if you are “applying” to join ZDNet’s posse of deputy testers, be sure to check back this Friday to see whether you’ve been accepted into the program, or not. So, good luck and let the TalkBacks begin!

Topics: Open Source, Oracle

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  • Sounds interesting.

    I wish I could say I deserve to test the product, but I'm a student who's only taken a year of the Java programming language. Otherwise, I'd love to try this product out.

    Either way, I'd like to see if anyone comes up with something creative from these...
  • Give me Sun SPOT and I'll give you the Moon

    I am a Computer Engineer with more than a decade's experience in Java Development and control systems development.

    I am currently working on a project that is literally out of this world! I am developing an [b]autonomous vehicle (AV) system[/b] to control and manage the movement of lunar, as in moon, raw materials. Specifically, soil on the moon.

    In a nutshell, the project involves a group of associated nodes in a scattered network. Some nodes are responsible for managing and orchestrating the actions of other nodes. Some nodes are connected to vehicles with limited power and a locomotion capability.

    So what needs would be satisfied by using Sun SPOTs?

    [b]Need 1[/b]: A way for the AV nodes to communicate with one another without the need for a tethering assembly.
    [b]Sun SPOT[/b]: Logically, wireless/radio communications come to mind. The Sun SPOT comes equipped with a Radio Communications capability built-in. (ZigBee)

    [b]Need 2[/b]: Sensors are required to monitor and report temperature, lighting and AV orientation
    [b]Sun SPOT[/b]: The Sun SPOT comes equipped with sensors (for Temperature, Lighting, and Orientation via accelerometer)

    [b]Need 3[/b]: I/O connections are required to control and receive information from ancillary devices (motors, controllers, and other sensors).
    [b]Sun SPOT[/b]: has several I/O pins (both digital and analog) to support this need.

    [b]Need 4[/b]: System should be rapidly re-configurable.
    [b]Sun SPOT[/b]: comes equipped with ability to run Java bytecode at the machine level. Software can be deployed to the Sun SPOTs either via a cable or Over-The-Air (OTA) wirelessly.

    While attending the recent JavaOne 2007 convention in San Francisco, I participated in a lab in which I experienced first-hand, the development of radio-controlled vehicles using Sun SPOT Technology. The vehicle was a Systronix Trackbot.

    The Lunar Soil AV project will make use of the onboard accelerometer to assist in the AV's localization (where am I) and orientation (how am I positioned).

    So I have the engineering background, the Java background, as well as some practical experience with the device (Sun SPOT's) under consideration.

    Time is of the essense. So if I receive one of your coveted Sun SPOT SDK's, I shall be putting it to use immediately. This means, that I shall be able to provide thorough and objective review of the devices in a short period of time.

    P.S. [i]Please select me![/i] Thanks (javapda)

    [i]Give me Sun SPOT and I'll give you the Moon[/i]
  • Query !

    Hi David, I am a Computer Research Engineer, based in Singapore and am currently involved in developing an infrastructure framework/toolkit for Agent based Modeling and Simulation with varied application domain viz, Architectural Strategy, Design Evolution, Swarm Robotics, Neural Nets, etc. I am working in the field of Robotics since past 3 years now and would LOVE to work on Sun Spot JDKs. But it seems, this program is not open to NON US nationals. Please CLARIFY. Thanks in advance
    • Unfortunately, yes... you must be based in the US.

      Sorry, but that's what the lawyers have told us, so I have to stick to the rules.


  • I'm seeing Sun Spots

    With 25 years of game development, I'm always looking for innovative technology. This *could* be interesting. But are they ready for prime time? Are the tools usable by mere humans? Must one sacrifice a PC at the alter of the Sun? Good questions!

    Answers in an upcoming report...
  • My pitch: A comparitive SunSPOT hardware and software review

    [i]Because I can't put HTML links in this Talkback, I put a copy of my pitch on my
    homepage where all the links are clickable[/i]:


    I?m an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Mines, and I research
    applications of wireless sensor networks (WSNs). I first saw the SunSPOT demoed
    in April at IPSN 2007 at MIT, which is an academic WSN conference. Here are some
    pictures I took at the event, including some SunSPOT shots:


    As you can see from the picture set, there are many wireless devices competing
    for attention with the SunSPOT. I?m interested in Sun?s approach to programming
    the devices by providing a high-level Java API. If it?s as easy as they claim, then
    this method of programming could welcome a new class of wireless sensor
    network programmers. Most of the wireless devices that I?m aware of (and all the
    others that I took pictures of above) run an embedded operating system called
    TinyOS, and developers program them in nesC, which is an extension of C. (I do
    have a picture of the Intel iMote 2, which can run TinyOS or Linux. It?s a little more
    expensive than the SunSPOT.) We use TinyOS in my testbed, the Casino Lab:


    where we have 52 Tmote Sky wireless sensor modules, which are lower power
    devices than the SunSPOT. (The run on two AA batteries, for example.) The
    SunSPOT, the Tmote Sky, the Intel iMote 2, and some similar devices all use the
    same radio, the Chipcon CC2420. Because they use the same radio and the same
    data link layer (IEEE 802.15.4) the SunSPOT should be able to communicate with
    TinyOS-based devices, but they can?t yet, although this is a known packet
    compatibility problem and work is in progress to fix it:


    If you give me a SunSPOT kit, I will review its Java development environment and
    compare the developer?s workflow to the experience of programming for
    embedded operating systems like TinyOS. By framing the review this way, I would
    like to give advice to Java developers without a background in embedded systems
    on whether they can jump into programming the SunSPOT right away. Although it
    will appeal to a smaller audience, the structure of my review will also give my
    opinion on where the SunSPOT fits into the wireless sensor network community.
    Ultimately, I would like to use the SunSPOTs with my Tmote Sky sensor modules to
    track miners and mining equipment in an underground mine. Our university owns
    an underground mine in Idaho Springs, CO, and we?re placing wireless sensors
    along the tunnels. It would be great if miners could carry a SunSPOT instead of a
    less-powerful device because it could do more computation and better tracking.
    I?ve posted some preliminary pictures here of our deployment at the mine here:

  • Free Java Kits

    Thats Easy! I am Very Honest, and.. to Prove that! it just so happens, that i have not a Clue.. as to what.. the two java kits are, that you are offering to give away. but.. i will give you an honest opinion, "a true assessment of what you want done here! and now.. why would that be? well.. again, i am honest and will tell you, "thee absolute truth.. about what you have proposed here.
    Eddy Andrews
  • Helmet Mounted Displays and the Sun Spot ...

    I have an strong interest in the Sun Spot technology and have had for some time. I
    have been following Sun's development of these on the their community web site:


    I have ~25 years of experience in the airspace industry, from advanced avionics
    systems (both hardware and software) including research flight controls systems
    on such aircraft as the F/A-18 aircraft and software applications prototyping for
    space related uses to network based sensor networks.

    My current interest in the Sun spot technology is their use in evaluating the
    feasibility of having accelerometers mounted in a glove such that hand gestures
    could be used as a means of navigating various HMD display pages.

    I have used Java in software development activities since 95. The Sun Spot SDK is
    built around the Netbeans IDE which I have extensive experience with. So I am
    sure that the tools and software API will allow me to evaluate the goal stated

    The Sun Spot provides a very clean way of evaluating the use of hand mounted
    sensors for the purpose of capturing hand movements for use in command and
    control of HMD displays and really of the embedded system hosting such an

    The proposed application will be developed completely in Java and include a Java
    GUI (simulating a HMD application in Java) which will be navigated via hand

    So, do you think you could Spot me one?

    Philip Gonia
  • SunSPOTS for Roomba Armies


    The Roomba is a robotic vacuum cleaner from iRobot that cleans your home or office completely autonomously and automatically, finding its way around an area. However, if a larger area were to be covered by a team of Roombas, it would require some sort of co-ordination. We would like to explore the possibility of sharing location information of all Roombas as a means of co-ordination. The information is shared using the short-range radio available on the SunSPOT platform. The autonomous co-ordination algorithm is implemented on the same platform using Squawk for resource-constrained systems. Location information can be determined using an integration approach with data from the accelerometers.

    We've worked with all kinds of other sensor network platforms before (Mica2, MicaZ, iMote, Stargate, etc) and feel we are best placed to test out these lovely things for ZDNet.


    The Roomba is a robotic vacuum cleaner from iRobot that cleans your home or office completely autonomously and automatically, finding its way around an area. In some cases, it is unable to cover the whole area due to its seemingly random traversal algorithm, however, it as been observed to cover areas without many obstacles quite well. Since cleaning (vacuum suction) is a relatively power intensive task, the designers have equipped the Roomba with a fairly large and advanced battery system. Even with this battery however, the Roomba manages to get only about an hour of cleaning. At the approximate default speed of about 25 cm/s, the cleaning brush would be able to cover an impressive 2500 sq-ft on a full charge in the best case. In a typical run however, the Roomba is found to get 'tired' after about 1000 sq-ft. This is partly due to the fact that the traversal algorithm has no knowledge whatsoever about the area that is being cleaned and thus the Roomba discovers the area on each run.

    When faced with the question of finding a better faster way to clean larger spaces, the obvious solution would be to use additional Roombas. However, this solution could remain incomplete unless there is a way to ensure that one of the Roombas doesn't re-clean areas another one has already cleaned. One way to achieve this is to partition the Roombas physically and explicitly by using Virtual Walls provided by iRobot. This technique seems to work really well if the walls are set up correctly and the fact the 'wall' is in fact a infrared beam of finite (15-25) width is taken into account. In the search for a better solution, we would like to explore the possibility of having the Roombas co-ordinate with each other in some way to achieve the same goal. This project requires the sharing of location information among Roombas to enable this co-ordination.

    It can be seen that the autonomous and independent nature of the Roombas is not affected by this information sharing and they still require to make smart decisions individually about what areas to clean and what areas to avoid (since they have either been cleaned or are obstructed by obstacles). The location information can be dispensed using short-range wireless communication with SunSPOTs. Each Roomba is equipped with a SPOT that receives information about itself and its peers, makes a decision about its cleaning path and then directs the Roomba on the path. The Roomba has been designed with a convenient serial interface with simple commands that are well documented. Thus, it is possible to control the Roomba quite easily.

    So why would one go through so much to make them work together? For one, it would lead to faster cleaning times for large spaces, making the system more efficient. It could even be argued that for some spaces, multiple Roombas would just not be able to complete the cleaning task properly if they didn't co-ordinate. Second, since there is no initial setup of partitioning required, the system is more convenient to use (but as we will describe, this may not always be the case). Third, this kind of co-ordination system increases robustness since if an explicit partition has been formed and one or more Roombas fail, the others cannot clean those areas. With co-ordination, if one of them fails, the others can still complete the task at hand.

    In emergency situations, such as a fire or other natural disaster, one could imagine that emergency response teams would be aided by hardened robots that can explore the area and gauge the extent of the damage to life and property really quickly. In situations like these, efficiency and robustness are of utmost importance. The Roomba Army project has the ambitious goal of being extensible to work with these applications as well (with other robotic devices). The convenience with which iRobot has provided a programming interface in a consumer grade device at a commodity price made the choice of using the Roomba for experimenting quite simple.

    Suffice to say that this project is well thought out and our team at the University of California, Los Angeles is well placed to carry it out. We would love to share our experience with the rest of the ZDNet community and show how easy they could be to use.

    Zainul Charbiwala
    EE, UCLA
  • SPOT Device

    I would like to use the Spot with several of my children as a part of their home education. Two of my boys have computer interests along with science / biology. I thought it would make a good science project to use the Spot to monitor various environmental conditions.
  • Sun SPOT usage

    We're having a little contest inside the organization I am part of on innovative business usage of Sun SPOTs. I've got the development environment installed on my Vista machine and it looks interesting. Hopefully soon we'll have it doing some interesting things to demonstrate soon.

    It seems like there are multiple categories of Sun SPOT ideas:
    1) based on the networking capability between Sun SPOTS
    2) based on the interface ability to connect to switches...
    3) trying to use the accelerometer to detect relative movement
    4) those wishing to connect to a GPS but not having any idea how!?!?
  • Ideas and time

    I am currently a computer science student with 5 years of professional programming experience. I would like one of these kits mostly because of the versitality they offer.

    I have plenty of ideas but often money is what stands between me and the fruition of those ideas. A kit like this is great because it provides the basis for many projects and an easy way to provide proof-of-concept.

    I feel that unlike some who would play with it for a couple of days and maybe write a short report I would truly put the kit to task and test its full capabilities (probably some that it didn't even know it had).

    Growing up around computers I have the 'hacker' mentality to push the limits of any system and discover its true potential.
    • Sorry

      Just realized this one was for last week, I got all excited about nothing :( . Oh I will have to keep an eye on this blog to see what else you might have although I dont know what could be as cool.
  • testing Sun SPOTs

    I have been working on a number of ideas of potential usages of autonomous objects in the home over the last couple of years. I have been developing in Java for over 10 years (just shortly after Java was first launched). I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering /robotics. I have been in the radio control hobby for many years. As a result of the combination of this experience and hobbies, I have been wanting to get into programming autonomous objects for several years. I would like to discuss the idea I have with you but not in a public setting. The results of the initial tests could be put into print. Eventually, the idea will be part of a commercial product. For that reason, I would be willing to put in a lot of time and effort into this project.
  • biomedical devices?

    I am a graduate students at UCSC working with embedded systems and ASIC designs. http://bmes.soe.ucsc.edu/. I have 8 years of experiences with embedded systems. I have used many microcontrollers for networking, robotics, and TA'ing senior embedded controller classes for two years. I have used Z80, HC68011, atmel, zilog, intel, NSC processors. I'd love to check out this [b]expensive[/b] embedded system development kit. I'd use this to record neuron signals and any other easy access physilogical signals, and wirelessly transmit back to a base station for data processing.