Latest in mobile - is it a phone, TV, radio or Net browser?

A communications chameleon -- the latest device in the world of mobile telecommunications -- is being developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The Handy 21, featured in August's edition of American Scientist magazine, is a Frankenstein's monster of a device, combining a television, radio, telephone, and Internet browser in one handy handheld unit.

To enable so much to be featured in such a small space, the team at MIT has replaced hardware with software, an innovation called "Spectrum-Ware". The radio, for example, is entirely written in software.

Handy 21 is, however, just part of MIT's even more ambitious "Oxygen" project, aimed at creating, a "computing environment in which electronic information processing is ever present and as unseen as the air."

In American Scientist magazine, John Guttag, the head of the department of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, envisages a world of communications based entirely on Spectrum-Ware technology.

"Conventional network interfaces are fixed; they are designed to operate under the worst conditions that can be tolerated, rather than to adapt to the conditions that the system actually encounters," he said. "A wireless network based on SpectrumWare technology would allow a much more dynamic organization of resources. Because characteristics of all the communications layers are dictated by software, they can be changed at any time it seems useful to do so."

No launch date or price has yet been announced for the Handy 21.

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