Back to the - TRON - Future

Steven J. Searle
Web Master, TRON Web

A very important event occurred in the TRON Project in December 2001, which, needless to say, went totally unnoticed by the western technical press here in Tokyo. The TRON Project returned to its roots when it introduced T-Engine, an open development platform for producing all the high-tech devices that the TRON Project intends to be connected to the TRON Hypernetwork, which in TRON technical parlance is called the Highly Functional Distributed System, or HFDS. TRON Architecture designer Prof. Ken Sakamura was beside himself when he announced T-Engine at TRON SHOW 2002, since, as he pointed out, it means "back to the future" for the TRON Project. Why back to the future? Well, the TRON Project is a standardization movement that originally intended to standardize both hardware and software. In addition to a family of operating systems that spanned all possible computer applications, the TRON Project also intended to standardized all sorts of hardware, included a CPU family, a LAN bus, an ergonomic keyboard, and even switches for lightning fixtures.

The main goals of the T-Engine project are to create a wide variety of network devices while implementing strong network security, reducing development time, and enabling the smooth distribution of middleware. To that end, T-Engine comes with an eTRON security chip as standard equipment--in fact, it won't operate without it--and the T-Engine real-time kernel is a version of µITRON that is eTRON compatible. There is also T-Monitor, a core part of a standardized debugging environment, which is something that has been long required but impossible to implement due to the "weak standardization" policy of the past. These are things that will mainly be apparent to computer professionals involved in the T-Engine project. From the end user's point of view, however, the biggest development is the fact that middleware will be able to move easily and rapidly from one maker's platform to another. This is particularly important in developing the BTRON architecture, which at present suffers from a lack of drivers for peripheral devices. Entirely new types of BTRON machines could result from the appearance of T-Engine.

During another of his presentations at TRON SHOW 2002, Prof. Sakamura made one more interesting comment. He said that the TRON Architecture is "almost complete." This is another significant statement, for it means that the project could move from the basic technology development phase entirely into the technology application phase. In other words, the concept proving has been completed, and now it's time to roll up our sleeves and start computerizing human society for the benefit of humans. The time for this is right. Japan's society is rapidly becoming the oldest on the planet, and thus computerized living space could prove to be quite instrumental in helping the elderly, particularly those who are handicapped and live alone. New computerized devices might also help Japan's economy recover from its decade long slump, since there is the potential they could create new demand among Japanese consumers. Everyone in Japan who wants a personal computer certainly has one, but it seems like there might be quite a demand for advanced portable information appliances based on the TRON Architecture.

For foreigners, particularly technology developers, the most important thing about the appearance of T-Engine is that there is money to be made supporting this new technology standard. The TRON Project has been maligned on numerous occasions by western technology commentators and U.S. government officials as a "non-tariff trade barrier," but it is nothing of the sort, nor was it ever intended to be. In fact, it is an architecture that can be used by people throughout the world free of charge, both domestically and for export to other nations. In the latter regard, shouldn't foreign software developers in take a look at T-Engine and the T-Engine development environment as means of penetrating the Japanese software market? As the business success of major software firms has shown in the past, those who get in on the ground floor when a new technology platform is released stand a good chance of capturing a large market share, and if you garner a large market share, why you just might even play an important role in defining the future technologies that will underlie the computerized society of the 21st century.

An opportunity has arrived. Let's see if anyone overseas is wise enough to take advantage of it.