Shortly before TRON SHOW 2001 opened, the news hit the World Wide Web--PCs weren't selling well this Christmas season in the U.S. Consumers were more interested in electronic gadgets, in particular the explosively popular Sony PlayStation 2. One after another, famous makers of personal computers and their components started to issue earnings warnings. One by one their stocks began to drop in value. Eventually a momentum built up, and that dragged the NASDAQ composite stock index down--way down. The NASDAQ dropped nearly 50 percent from its peak in March, wiping out trillions of dollars in paper wealth held by stockholders. In almost a flash, America's high flying miracle economy had come down to earth, and business experts and commentators began to wonder what the future would hold now that it has become clear that the U.S. market is saturated with personal computers.
TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura has a very good idea of what the future holds, and it doesn't include the personal computer. To celebrate the beginning of the end of the age of the personal computer, he began his keynote address at TRON SHOW 2001 with a slide that read "Gone with the Windows," which was accompanied by a short audio clip of the theme from Gone with the Wind. He then announced to the packed house that TRON--specifically, ITRON with/without JTRON--is the number one consumer operating system in use worldwide. It is the standard operating system in Toyota automobiles, in NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s i-mode cell-phones, in digital cameras, in facsimile machines, and in innumerable other devices that have been developed for consumers. Not only don't most westerners know this fact, but most Japanese don't either. The Japanese media picked up on this, and one headline read. "TRON Is Now the Most Used Embedded OS in the World' Mr. Ken Sakamura's Victory Declaration--at TRON SHOW 2001."
However, the TRON Project "victory," if one wants to call it that, is a victory for "openness," a concept that is familiar to people throughout the world participating in the GNU/Linux movement, including those in the U.S. The main difference is that the TRON Project allows the for the existence of multiple versions of the same source code, since it is an "open architecture" movement, not an "open source code" movement. Prof. Sakamura said the change from closed to open computer architectures is one reason the TRON Project is drawing more attention these days. Another is the movement from the PC to the non-PC platform, which naturally is proceeding differently in different countries. In Japan, the leading non-PC platform seems to be the Internet-capable cell-phone, which is spreading exponentially in the Japanese market. There are now almost 22 million of them in a population of approximately 127 million. In the U.S., Compaq and National Semiconductor are very interested in non-PC products. These non-PC products are more flexible than personal computers, since they allow one to take and/or access data wherever one needs those data.
Prof. Sakamura said the most important thing in realizing the world of information and/or Internet appliances is security, and for that he is developing a new subarchitecture called "eTRON." As an example of this new subarchitecture, he showed the audience a thin card like device the size of telephone card, which is based on a data carrier chip. It was designed to allow people attending TRON SHOW 2001 to access a data terminal by placing it over a special location on a data kiosk from which they could get information on the show. Prof. Sakamura said the device is non-contact, tamper proof, and contains non-volatile memory. The eTRON Architecture itself is based on the concept of "electronic entities" that simulate properties of the paper entities used in commerce. Although not all the properties of paper can be realized, many of them can, and they will allow for an increase in electronic commerce. However, since electronic commerce will become a network-based phenomenon, in addition to tamper-proof handheld devices for consumers, there also have to be new data formats, higher level protocols, and specialized server groups (issuing servers, content servers, ticket servers, etc.).
The BTRON subarchitecture is also planned for use in the electronic commerce world of the future. Since the BTRON-specification operating system is extremely compact and can process every kanji [Chinese character] that has ever been created for writing the Japanese language, it is ideal for employment in electronic book applications, such as e-book reader devices. To protect the copyrighted material, of course, it has to incorporate eTRON technology. Prof. Sakamura also took time out to explain that BTRON is being used to solve the problems of existing databases of resident names and addresses at ward offices and city halls throughout Japan. Furthermore, at the University of Tokyo BTRON has been used to digitize ancient documents, such as the famous K'ang Hsi unabridged Chinese character dictionary. However, rather than digitizing the entire work character by character, which is very expensive, only the main entries have been digitized using BTRON's unabridged kanji character set.
Summing up, Prof. Sakamura said that the future targets for the Information Age can be expressed with four key words: light, economy, stable, and safety, in other words, "LESS." Given the fact that many Internet appliances have failed to sell in large numbers, this is a view that many computer pundits, particularly those in the U.S., would hotly contest. But then again, there is the problem of those poor Christmas season PC sales. And, of course, there is also Microsoft Corporation's push into the booming game platform field with its X-Box. Accordingly, there might be something to the TRON vision of the future. In order to spread both that vision and the TRON Architecture, Prof. Sakamura said that many seminars will be held in the coming year, 2001, to both train engineers and evangelize the TRON Project. Considering the fact that the logo for TRON SHOW 2001 was written in Chinese, some of those seminars will probably held beyond Japan's shores.
* This is what is written on the TRON SHOW 2001 poster displayed above. It is written not in Japanese, however, but in Chinese!
Korea TRON Association Chief Says IT will Change Economy
Evangelization the the TRON Project is something that is already well under way in the Republic of Korea. A well attended seminar was held in Seoul on August 22, 2000, and a TRON association, the second of its kind outside of Japan, has also been established in Seoul. The Korea TRON Association's chairman, former Hankook Kyungje Shinmun [The Korea Economic Daily] president Park Yong Jung, took time out to come to Tokyo to attend TRON Show 2001, where he spoke on recent developments in the field of information technology (IT) in Korea that he thinks are going to change the nature of the economy. The developments he discussed in his presentation were: the widespread introduction of high-speed Internet connections, in particular asymmetric digital subscriber lines (ADSLs); currently available wireless Internet service; the introduction of next generation wireless service, which is known both as third-generation (3G) wireless and IMT-2000; and application service providers (ASPs).
For those who are unfamiliar with Korea, a little background information is in order. In the fall of 1997, the economy of the country crashed due to an inability to pay back foreign debts. This was a result of the fact that the country's foreign exchange reserves had fallen too low. Accordingly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was called in to help rectify the situation with a loan package. The price for the IMF's $57 billion rescue package--the largest in the organization's history--was the deregulation of the South Korea economy, and one of the main targets for deregulation was none other than the telecommunications sector. Consequently, Hanaro Telecom Inc. began offering megabit-per-second-level ADSL service in April 1999, and then other competitors, such as Korea Telecom, joined in to create an ADSL boom. By July 2000, there were 1,173,459 ASDL subscribers in the country, compared to 712,168 cable modem and 206,892 ISDN subscribers. Today, in spite of complaints about throughput, the number of ADSL subscribers has climbed to more than 2 million, which compares favorably with approximately 1 million ADSL subscribers in the U.S.** and only several thousand in Japan.
Wireless Internet service, Japan's forte, is small-scale but growing quickly, said Mr. Park. As of May 2000, there were 2,844,000 subscribers, which is only a fraction of the number of wireless Internet service users in Japan. One reason for this may be that considerably less content is offered in Korea. For example, SK Telecom began offering a WAP-based Internet service called "n.TOP" from February 2000. It has a total of only 250 types of content, compared to tens of thousands of content types*** for NTT DoCoMo's i-mode. In spite of this, the company has a target of signing up 700,000 subscribers by December 2000. Mr. Park said that wireless Internet service in Korea suffers from a lack of content, reliance on foreign technology, plus the fact that different microbrowser standards, e.g., Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and Mobile Explorer (ME), are used. Nevertheless, for IMT-2000, both synchronous and asynchronous transmission standards will be used in Korea, since one of them, the synchronous standard, is being pushed by local manufacturers and thus has Korean government backing. The three license contenders for 3G wireless service, however, want to use the asynchronous standard, since it is most likely to become the international standard.
Although people come into contact with ASP software on a daily basis on the Internet, most people have never heard of an ASP. An ASP is actually a company or organization that provides--normally rents--software to a customer that is useful in fulfilling a particular purpose. For example, an Internet service provider (ISP) might rent an application that compiles and/or analyzes Web traffic statistics to a customer that has a Web site on one of its servers. While this type of business has been developing in the U.S. for quite some time, in Korea it is still in its formative stages, according to Mr. Park. At present, there are only 10 odd companies engaged in ASP development in Korea. The types of firms engaged in ASP development are system integrators, software houses, and ISPs. This small number of participants in the ASP field is a result of the fact that distribution and service sectors account for only 18 percent of the overall computer market in Korea. Mr. Park also spoke about other types of business-oriented software, such as B2B, B2C, and B2E (Business-to-Employee), which are also being investigated as solutions to various business problems.
Unfortunately, Mr. Park did not mention anything at all about the TRON Project and TRON-based technologies in his presentation. It would be interesting to know what level of interest in TRON exists there. In particular, as a country that has a large part of its heritage and culture recorded in Chinese characters, Korea has similar language processing needs that cannot be satisfied efficiently with Unicode-based systems. In other words, Korea needs BTRON-based computers as much as Japan does, and thus there is room there for both countries to cooperate with each other in the development of software, both applications and content. (For an interesting article on this topic of Japanese-Korean cooperation, click here.) However, Mr. Park did say that he was impressed with TRON SHOW 2001, and that he would like to hold such a show in the coming year in Korea. Considering that it was standing room only at the TRON seminar that was held in Seoul last August, such a TRON show will probably be well attended.
** Some Americans may find it shocking that there are more ADSL subscribers in Korea than the U.S., but a visit to a large Korean city would quickly allow one to understand why this has come about. Korea's largest cities are all in narrow valleys, which means that the majority of people live in large, multistory apartment complexes. It is considerably easier and cheaper to offer ADSL service in such apartment complexes than in a typical American suburb, or even a sprawling East Asian city like Tokyo, where there are large numbers of single family dwellings.
*** Japanese and Koreans prefer different Web content formats, and even different types of personal computers. For example, Japanese Web pages are more likely to be simple without bells and whistles, while Korean Web pages are more likely to incorporate advanced multimedia features. When it comes to personal computers, the all-in-one Macintosh models, such as Apple Computer Inc.'s original Macintosh, sold much better in Japan than in Korea. Anyone who knows the history of the Macintosh in Japan is not at all surprised that NTT DoCoMo's simple i-mode handsets became hugely popular here. In fact, it's sort of like history repeating itself.
A Packed Press Chat and a Wide Ranging Panel Discussion
Although Japan is filled with TRON-based products, their manufacturers normally do not use branding marks. This is because: (1) they do not receive a cash incentive to do so, and (2) branding a product with a TRON branding mark makes it a potential target for foreign trade negotiators during a future round of "market opening measures." Accordingly, there is considerably less information about the TRON Project in the Japanese news media than there should be. In recent years, however, both the Japanese media and the Japanese government have come to the realization that it was a huge mistake not to lend support to the TRON Project in the 1980s--in fact, the Japanese government nearly did to its computer industry in 1980s what the British government succeeded in doing to its aircraft industry back in the 1960s--and thus the spotlight is once again beginning to shine on the project. An indication of the intensity of this spotlight was the packed press chat that TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura held with members of the press at the end of the first day of TRON SHOW 2001. Not a single seat in the room was vacant. This was quite a change from the year before when half the seats were vacant.
During the press chat, Prof. Sakamura ran through a list of the TRON Project's achievements and the vast array of products TRON-specification operating systems are used in, e.g., Toyota automobiles, NTT DoCoMo i-mode cell-phones, digital still cameras, and even a BTRON-compatible Panasonic network facsimile-printer (the DX-2000) exhibited at TRON SHOW 2001. His also let it slip that TRONCHIP-specification microprocessors are still in production, although he refused to name the company that has been making them for more than 10 years. However, he was most enthusiastic when describing the eTRON card, which includes a microprocessor, since he expects it to become more widely used than even ITRON. Although an eTRON card with its microprocessor costs about 1,000 yen at present, the price is expected to drop. This is because the technology will be mass produced and incorporated into a wide variety of products. Prof. Sakamura said this will not be the only e-commerce system in existence; it will co-exist with others. The eTRON technology will be described in a paper being written for IEEE Micro, he said.
The panel discussion session that was held on the second day of TRON SHOW 2001 was a standing room only affair. Although the topic was supposed to be Internet appliances, the speakers frequently got sidetracked, but they made many interesting comments when they did so. Mr. Kiichiro Tamaru of Toshiba Corporation and the master of ceremonies was the first speaker. He pointed out--as any Internet user can attest!--that one of the biggest problems in the network age is how to support streaming data, which can create a priority inversion among tasks in a distributed system. One solution being investigated is a combination of a cell-phone and a PDA using Bluetooth wireless LAN technology. Mr. Takuro Sone of Yamaha Corporation was the second speaker. He talked about his company's successful foray into the network content business. The company supplies karaoke music via a dedicated network using dedicated servers, which eliminates problems such as securing payment transactions and guaranteeing quality of service that could result from using the Internet. The third speaker, Mr. Shoichi Hachiya of Aplix Corporation, talked about the merits of using JTRON-based JBlend across the many makes of cell-phones; basically, it greatly reduces the time to market of the handsets, since it creates a standard platform for application developers.
The two other speakers, Mr. Masahide Yakazu of Elmic Systems Inc. and Prof. Ken Sakamura of the University of Tokyo, talked about network software problems. Mr. Yakazu described his firm's Kasago TCP/IP stack for Windows CE, which is five times faster than the standard Unix-based TCP/IP stack. This type of middleware is extremely important, since it plays a vital role in increasing network efficiency. Prof. Sakamura talked about the Internet from the computer architect's perspective. He pointed out that it was originally designed to connect university mainframe computers together, and hence there is a locality problem. Moreover, when the Internet was designed, its designers never considered the fact that one day a mainframe computer might connect to a Coca Cola vending machine.
So what were the interesting comments made by the panelists? One of the most interesting comments was made in regard to Internet security. One of the participants pointed out that the U.S. government wants to control security on the Internet, and thus it has put pressure on the Japanese government to prevent Japanese companies from creating such software. However, this U.S. government "security policy" implemented by the Japanese government simultaneously serves the commercial interests of the U.S. software houses that specialize in such software. Another panelist pointed out that the cost of importing such software from the U.S. is not cheap, even low priced security software costs 10 million yen. Prof. Sakamura also brought up the question of money, but in regard to paying for the Internet itself. Servers and high-bandwidth Internet connections are not given away free of charge, and lots of Internet content is certainly not created without paying content creators, so who is going to pay for all of this? This is a question that has also been asked many times in the U.S. by economists and technology commentators. Ironically, the only portion of the Internet that is generating appreciable user fees and seems to be paying its own way is NTT DoCoMo's i-mode service in Japan.
Some of the other interesting comments that were made were: we need various types of networks, not just the Internet; Americans drive so if you can put something in a car, it's considered mobile there; Japanese people live in crowded spaces, and thus they prefer small screens so that other people cannot look over their shoulder; Asians like to have music coming out of their cell-phones; the network comes from the U.S., but the applications can come from Japan; NTT DoCoMo's i-mode handset is not easy to use (in spite of this, another participant said his teenage daughter has read the i-mode manual from cover to cover!); the reason the i-mode cell-phone has succeeded is that it provides good service; service in the U.S. is bad; people want to communicate with other people, and the i-mode cell-phone has solved that problem; an Italian has developed an Internet-compatible washing machine (it connects to a server that knows the amount of detergent and how to wash the clothes); people in Sweden want to build networks in their homes and develop Internet cities; the TRON Project began about 10 years too early; cell-phones and Internet appliances need both a service model and a business model; and TRON is starting to catch on in the U.S.
BTRON becomes Terminal for Oracle's DBMS and a Web Server
One of the most interesting things that occurred at TRON SHOW 2001 was every time there was a presentation on BTRON the lecture hall filled up. Incredibly, it's developments regarding the BTRON subarchitecture--the personal computer operating system architecture that should have died off a long time ago--that are now the crowd pleaser and the attention getter. Although it is not as mature as other personal computer operating systems on the market, it has more potential than most of its commercial competitors in the coming post-PC age, and hence many people are interested in where the BTRON subproject is going. In the short term, the answer seems to be into niche markets, one of which is database management at offices where large lists of Japanese people and their addresses are maintained. In that regard, Oracle Corporation Japan has cooperated with Personal Media Corporation to enable the BTRON3-specification operating system Cho Kanji to act as a front end for servers running Oracle's database management system software. In addition, Personal Media is in the process of creating software that will allow BTRON users to create Web pages and use their BTRON computers as servers without possessing any knowledge of HTML. Finally, there was a list of improvements to the BTRON3-specification operating system announced that will be appearing in the next version, Cho Kanji 3.
The database front-end processing scheme that was announced by Personal Media, which is officially referred to as the "Cho Kanji/Oracle Solution," allows the BTRON3-specification computer to serve as a front-end data terminal for databases constructed using Oracle Corporation's "Oracle 8i" database. (The "i" in "Oracle 8i" stands for Internet.) This scheme makes it possible to use a BTRON3-specification computer to access existing databases, amend data in existing databases, and/or construct totally new databases based on Oracle 8i. Also, it is possible to use existing terminals and BTRON-based terminals in tandem with each other. In order to implement this scheme, Personal Media upgraded the BTRON Basic Browser so that it could handle the full Cho Kanji character set, which includes an unabridged kanji [Chinese character] character set for Japanese language processing. The scheme also uses a middle layer, as indicated in the above illustration. The following is what happens when there is a request for a data search from the BTRON data terminal using the above scheme.
Mr. Akira Matsui of Personal Media said during a presentation at TRON SHOW 2001 that the above system is aimed at government databases, customer management systems, library information management systems, and airline reservation systems. The merit of this system is that the full BTRON character set of 130,000 characters at present can be used on the Oracle database. This allows for people's names to be written with the correct characters they normally use in writing their names, and it alleviates the need to worry about the processing of user defined characters. Mr. Matsui demonstrated the system using two types of foreign Chinese characters: the Chinese characters used in China and Korea. In the first demonstration, he demonstrated a database of the personal names of the characters in the famous Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The names of about 1,000 individuals appear in this novel; 310 of these cannot be written with the JIS levels 1 and 2 that are the standard character sets of today's personal computers in Japan. In another demonstration, Mr. Matsui showed the proper Korean characters used in a list of foreign residents' names. Since there are hundreds of thousands of Korean nationals living in Japan as permanent residents, this is a very useful for the Japanese ward offices where these individuals officials register the details of their residence in Japan.
The improvements that will appear in the next version of the BTRON3-specification operating system, Cho Kanji 3, were explained in a presentation in the lecture hall and exhibited in the exhibits area at TRON SHOW 2001. The improvements are: both the BTRON e-mailer and the BTRON Basic Browser have been upgraded so that they can now use all of the character sets supported by the operating system (this has long been the case for the other applications in the system); the graphic characters used on NTT DoCoMo's popular i-mode handsets have been added to the BTRON character set; the Character Search utility has been improved with new functions (e.g., characters can be enlarged for easy viewing); text creation functions have been improved (e.g., a "ruby" [kanji side reading] function has been added); the operating system has been made compatible with Universal Serial Bus (USB, a serial bus for peripherals); and new functions have been added that allow the user to set the color and default fonts used in various system parts. Furthermore, Personal Media is creating a real object/virtual object application that allows the BTRON user to create Web pages without any knowledge of HTML and then employ his/her BTRON computer as a Web server to make them available via the Web. Mr. Matsui demonstrated how in spite of the differences in the character sets, an Internet Explorer user can view exactly the same character data (the characters that aren't in the MS Windows system are converted into graphics before transmission). At present, only text and graphics files have been made Web compatible. Mr. Matsui said there is still lots of work to do to make the other BTRON files structures Web compatible. Once that is finished, Personal Media will decide how to market the technology.
While there is still debate among technology analysts and commentators in the U.S. as to whether we have entered the post-PC age, everyone in Japan knows it's here already. The explosive success of NTT DoCoMo's i-mode handsets is just one indication of the arrival of the post-PC age. One company that has its eye on this market is National Semiconductor Corporation of the U.S., which is aiming its Intel x86-compatible Geode processor at Internet appliances (IAs). A National Semiconductor Japan Ltd. spokesman gave a presentation on this processor, which the firm calls an "IA on a chip," at TRON SHOW 2001. He said the firm believes IA shipments will outstrip PC shipments in 2002, and, to deal with that market, it has prepared three versions of its Geode processor for the most likely applications: the SC1200/SC1210 for set-top boxes, the SC2200 for thin clients, and the SC3200 for personal access devices, such as the WebPAD depicted above. There are also two other processors in development, the GX1 and GX2, which run at 300 MHZ and 400 MHz, respectively. The Geode SC3200, which runs between 200 MHz and 230 MHz, supports MMX multimedia instructions. The one-chip design leaves lots of space for other things on the system board, lowers cost, and reduces heat, thus allowing for fanless operation. In addition to the BTRON3-specification operating system, other operating systems, such as GNU/Linux and Windows CE, have been ported to the Geode processor.
ITRON Now a Real RTOS for Machine Control
The feeling one got from listening to ITRON presentations at TRON SHOW 2001 is that ITRON-specification real-time operating systems are now "real" real-time operating systems (RTOSs) for machine control. That is to say, commercial vendors of competing RTOSs used to like to portray ITRON as some sort of toy operating system developed in a far away country by people who knew nothing about systems software development and had a skewed understanding of what real-time processing means. Nothing could be further from the truth. Major Japanese corporations, such as Toyota Motor Corporation and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., are betting the farm on ITRON-specification RTOSs, and the applications in which they are using them in involve time-critical processing, such as engine control in automobiles. Moreover, ITRON is also a platform for other TRON operating system subprojects, such BTRON, JTRON, and TRON JCG, all of which are expected to be incorporated into next generation Internet and information appliances. So far from being a toy operating system, ITRON-specification operating systems are serious RTOSs being used on an extremely wide scale in demanding applications.
Mr. Kiichiro Tamura of the TRON Association's ITRON Committee talked about the ITRON subproject's activities in 2000 in a tutorial session. He said that preparations have been made for the establishment of an ITRON committee in the U.S., the TRON JCG Project results have been released to the public, an ITRON C++ API specification study has begun, the ITRON debugging interface project results have been released, the JTRON2.1 specification has been released, the freeware µITRON4.0-specification TOPPERS/JSP kernel has been made available for downloading via the Internet, µITRON4.0-specification RTOSs have been made available by commercial firms, and ITRON exhibits and seminars were successfully held both in Japan and abroad. That's a long list of accomplishments, but there are still problems in the subproject. For example, better development environments are needed as applications increase in size, and there is a need for device driver guidelines. Also, there is a problem with debugging interface standardization in that it depends on the size of the kernel, and the approval system in which developer compliance to the specification is verified needs to be rethought. The plan is to have the kernel supplier do it. Complete details of these issues can be found at the ITRON Project Home Page.
A spokesman from Matsushita Graphic Communication Systems Inc. gave an in-depth presentation at TRON SHOW 2001 on why and how his company is using the µITRON kernel in its facsimile machines, which are marketed under the Panasonic brand name. He said that facsimile machines have now become multifunctional devices with a couple of megabytes of software, compared to several kilobytes previously. In addition, they need to simultaneously run multiple functions, such as receive and print, and their production costs have to be drastically lowered, since prices are declining in Japan. The company definitely seems to feel that ITRON fits the bill, because all divisions are now using ITRON as common software. This allows for a "write once run in a family" middleware programming model. Unfortunately, the spokesman didn't mention why the company decided to develop and exhibit a "Cho Kanji printing system" that supports multiple BTRON computers for its Panafax DX-2000. The Panafax DX-2000 is a high-end printer for office use. All the printers supported by BTRON to date have been low-cost Canon and Epson ink jet printers for home use. Could it be that Matsushita sees BTRON being introduced into Japanese offices in the near future? Sometimes the most important things are left unsaid.
ITRON-specification RTOS developers are always in attendance at TRON events, and they were lots of them on hand at TRON SHOW 2001 displaying their wares and giving presentations in the lecture hall. Elmic Systems Inc. introduced ELX-ITRON, a real-time monitor it developed using its µITRON3.0-based Accel-µ RTOS. Elmic developed Accel-µ as an accelerator tool to speed up Microsoft Corporation's Windows CE. The company also markets the "Kasago Web Browser," a Web browser for embedded applications that can use the high-speed Kasago TCP/IP protocol stack (TCP: 2,400 packets/sec.; routing: 10,000 packets/sec.). Another ITRON developer that gave a presentation was MiSPO Co. Ltd., which has developed and marketed the NORTi series of µITRON3.0- and µITRON4.0-specification RTOSs that run on a wide variety of RISC processors. They are supported by various commercial debuggers, and the company offers optional middleware components for them, i.e., PPP, HTTPd, and a mail system. The spokesman made some interesting comments during his presentation. He said not to trust the task switching times claimed by developers--sounds like the microprocessor MIPS processing figure controversy several years back!--and he said that there are problems with µITRON4.0 in that the kernel size has increased. As a result, system call processing time has increased by 7.6 percent.
In addition to speeding up slower operating systems used in embedded systems, such as Windows CE, ITRON is also used to speed up the processing of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java programming language, and a special architecture has been developed for that purpose--Java on ITRON (JTRON). Two companies that have taken the lead in JTRON development, Aplix Corporation and Personal Media Corporation, gave JTRON presentations at TRON SHOW 2001. Aplix has already gained international fame as a JTRON developer; its JTRON-specification JBlend operating system is used in high profile consumer products, such as Sony Corporation's MD DISCAM and next generation J-PHONE cell-phones. Aplix has created a software development kit for its JBlend operating system called JBlend SDK, which is aimed at improving application development. However, at TRON SHOW 2001, the Aplix representative talked about the firm's BitSpirit Internet-Software Development Kit (BSI-SDK), which is a development kit for the firm's BSI Web browser for embedded use. The firm is aiming this browser at traffic and geography information appliances. Personal Media's JTRON-specification J-right/V RTOS, on the other hand, is aimed at an entirely different market, i.e., IBM-PC/AT-compatibles, and it is actually marketed as package software for 99,800 yen (consumption tax not included).
Foreign companies and their local partners involved in the ITRON subproject were also well represented at TRON SHOW 2001. A spokesman from A.I. Corporation, which offers United States Software Inc.'s TronTask! RTOS in Japan, said in a presentation his firm can provide one-stop shopping for all a developer's ITRON needs. Not only is this µITRON3.0-specification RTOS on offer, but the company can also provide its customers with a development environment, a wide array of middleware including a royalty free GUI, on-site training services for development staff, and even engineering support services. This is the type of developer support that Microsoft provided to make MS-DOS and MS Windows successes. What made the PowerPC-based Macintosh a success was Metrowerks' CodeWarrior development environment, and this famous development environment along with the firm's PowerParts for those who need a quick GUI were explained by a spokesman from Metrowerks Co. Ltd. The main selling points of the CodeWarrior development environment for ITRON are ease of use and a fast compiling speed of 1 million lines per second. Another American firm that has gotten involved in the ITRON movement, Accelerated Technology Inc., offers a royalty free µITRON4.0-specification RTOS, Nucleus µiPLUS, in cooperation with its local partner, Grape Systems Inc. These companies have the same idea as A.I. Corporation, i.e., one-stop comprehensive shopping for all an ITRON developer's needs.
TRON Electronic Prosthetics Symposium 2001 (TEPS 2001), which was held on the day following the conclusion of TRON SHOW 2001, took up the theme of using next generation cell-phones--the so-called third generation, or 3G cell-phones--to aid the disabled. As is normally the case at a major Enableware event, this symposium drew a huge crowd of more than 200 people, many of them disabled. In addition, representatives from cell-phone service providers, including Mr. Hirotaka Nakano from NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s Multimedia Research Laboratory who also gave a presentation on 3G cell-phones, were on hand to directly hear from the disabled what types of Enableware functions they would like to see realized in next generation cell-phones in order to make their lives more livable.
The Enableware symposium's program began with a keynote address by TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura, who began by pointing out once again that the age of the personal computer has ended. He noted that while personal computer annual sales in Jaapn hit the 5 million unit level, cell-phone sales were double that at 10 million units. That means that the design of cell-phones is more important than that of personal computers, since more people are going to come into contact with them. Prof. Sakamura pointed out that the lack of freedom that the disabled experience is not "absolute," and that there can be a mismatch of equipment for anyone, including those who are not disabled. The solution, he said, is "universal design" at the initial design stage, which allows Enableware technology to be distributed as standard technology. In other words, if the whole society bears the costs, the costs are not high, and many of the elderly can also benefit from aids for the disabled. However, sometimes laws are required in order to get people to cooperate in the development of these technologies.
Professor Sakamura said that in particular we need communication between users and developers to have aids for the disabled included in new generation equipment. Many developers are surprised that the disabled require such functions, but once they find out many of them are willing to help out. As for advanced cell-phone design, Prof. Sakamura said that in a way, the cell-phone is the ideal form of Enableware. In the case of a person who is hard of hearing, for example, a simple vibration key would allow him/her to know that someone is trying to contact them via e-mail. For a visually impaired person, a slightly more complicated text-to-speech function could allow him/her to access e-mail messages on a server. Since 3G cell-phones will have much higher throughput, he said they could be used to send sign language. In addition, since they will be equipped with JTRON, they could receive programs. For example, someone could send a Morse code program that could activate a vibrator. Such a specialized device could be easily attached to a cell-phone using a USB connection.
The most important thing in all these scenarios is creating the "flexibility" to deal with the unique needs of each disabled person. Accordingly, it must be possible to set functions for each person so that cell-phones can be personalized for each individual. And once ubiquitous computing, i.e, local LANs filled with intelligent appliances, come on line, it should be possible to link the cell-phone in with various computerized appliances in a ubiquitous computing environment. The network technologies for ubiquitous computing--Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), TRON OS, and eTRON--already exist, as do various transmission technologies--IMT-2000, Personal Handyphone System (PHS), Bluetooth, and ISO/IEC 14443 (an international standard for proximity integrated circuit cards). However, Professor Sakamura said that standardization of data formats is also important to realize this vision of the future. TRON was the first to propose and develop standardized data formats, which are called TRON Application Databus (TAD) in the TRON Architecture.
After Prof. Sakamura spoke, Mr. Hirotaka Nakano of NTT DoCoMo's Multimedia Research Laboratory gave a presentation on 3G cell-phones and their capabilities. Japan, as everyone now knows is a cell-phone crazy society where the number of fixed-line telephones has been surpassed by the number of cell-phones, but Mr. Nakano pointed out that the number of cell-phone users in the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries is proportionally higher. Where Japan is different is that a large number of Japanese--approximately 20 million--access the Internet via cell-phones, and that the wireless handset is the sole means of access to the Internet for many of these people. It is for these users, that the high-speed, digital 3G transmission standard called Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), which has a maximum throughput of 2 Mbps, has been developed and will be put into use in Japan starting in May 2001. While the previous generation Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) is also a digital transmission standard, it has very low throughput. However, TDMA was quite an improvement over the first generation, the analog Frequency Division Multiple Access (FDMA). For those who think that cell-phone technology will max out in the third generation, Mr. Nakano noted that his firm expects this generation to last no more than a decade until 2011, when it will be replaced by yet to be defined 4th generation technology.
Mr. Nakano also made some interesting comments on throughput. The usual figures for the Wideband-CDMA (W-CDMA) transmission standard that is scheduled to be deployed in Japan are 64 Kbps upload and 384 Kbps download, but we also have been told that the maximum theoretical speed is to be 2 Mbps. Actually, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) targets for this generation of cell-phones are: 2 Mbps indoor, 384 Kbps while walking, and 144 Kbps while riding in a vehicle. NTT DoCoMo intends to stretch the ITU targets to give even some pedestrians 2 Mbps, deliver 384 Kbps in most cases, and to have 144 Kbps limited to only certain situations involving high-speed vehicles. He said that by 2004 or 2005, 3G service will be provided in almost all areas of Japan. It will offer its users higher voice quality, multimedia services, higher capacity at lower cost, and it will be a global standard that will be employed in other countries throughout the world, thus allowing international continuity of service. To take advantage of this throughput, a wide variety of wireless devices are being tested, everything from wristwatches and specialized data terminals (e.g., cell-phones with audio/video capabilities that can be used for offering wireless entertainment) to palmtop computers and, of course, adapters for existing notebook and other types of personal computers. Mr. Nakano believes the adapters will prove highly useful to the disabled.
Aspects of 3G cell-phones that could be of use to the disabled concern machine control, positioning, and personalization. Next generation cell-phones will be capable of communicating with home appliances, no doubt using TRON JCG technology in combination with Bluetooth LAN technology. The problem, of course, is how to interface such functions to a person with a particular disability, something that will involve interface customization. As for positioning, which is extremely important function for the visually and mentally disabled to tell others where they are, the current Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is inadequate, since it is only accurate within 30 to 100 meters as a result of what is known as the Selective Availability (SA) error. This can be corrected using Differential-GPS (D-GPS), a system based on a "reference station" at a known fixed position that can correct the SA error. However, such technology will not be available in 3G cell-phones, and it will not be possible to achieve positioning accuracy to within a meter. Finally, a User Identity Module (UIM) is already under development as a mobile ID card for security. Health and disability information and/or special settings for the disabled could be put on such a device, which would allow disabled persons to use various types of terminals just by inserting the UIM into a slot.
A hearing impaired person, Mr. Hiroshi Hasegawa of Tsukuba College of Technology, gave the audience a rundown of what the technological changes of the last few decades have meant for people like himself. In the days of the telephone, the hearing impaired needed the help of their family members to hear the telephone ringing and/or take a message. Then the facsimile machine appeared, making it possible for the hearing impaired to receive messages even without the help of a family member. However, the facsimile machine couldn't be taken outside the home, and in a work setting it was impossible to receive messages without losing one's privacy. The cell-phone with e-mail messaging has now made it possible to contact people from anywhere, which makes the hearing impaired feel safe. This is particularly important in an emergency situation, as the nature of the situation can be explain. They can also contact the person they want to contact without waiting, and it is possible to change a meeting location after a person has left home, since it is possible to send information after they have left home. However, there are problems with current cell-phones. The biggest problems are: (1) not all cell-phones can receive character data; (2) there is no way of sending sign language; (3) inputting characters is difficult; and (4) there is no positioning function, which is important in an emergency situation to let others know where one is. Fortunately, 3G cell-phones will have functions that will alleviate these deficiencies.
Following Mr. Hasegawa's presentation, Mr. Yoshitake Misaki of the Hachioji Municipal School for the Visually Impaired gave a presentation on a mail software IP messenger that is currently used on personal computers connected to an in-house LAN. This six-key, Braille-based messaging system has proved very useful in getting introverted students to learn how to communicate with others, Mr. Misaki said. His presentation was followed by that of Mr. Kuniaki Yamashita, who is the father of an autistic child. Mr. Yamashita bought his son, who likes to go out and wander around on his own, a PHS wireless handset. This is because the service provider, NTT DoCoMo, offers a "where now service" that allows him to get obtain a facsimile map print out of the general area in which his son is by contacting the service center and inputting a special ID number. Unfortunately, this map print out covers an area with a one kilometer radius that is difficult to search. In addition, his son likes to go inside department stores, which makes it difficult to detect his position. And once, his son dove into a pool with his PHS handset and made it inoperable. In addition to a waterproof model, what he would like to see in future in future cell phones are: (1) an alarm system that alerts parents when children go off their regular train route, (2) functions that allow parents to remotely see and hear the surroundings where the child is, (3) an alarm that prevents a child from throwing the handset away, (4) a rugged case that is difficult to break, and (5) a speaker that will allow parents to give directions to their children remotely.
The TEPS 2001 program concluded with a panel discussion in which all the speakers participated. Prof. Sakamura led of the discussion by pointing out that cell-phones can help the disabled in many ways, although there are problems communicating across the competing carriers. Mr. Nakano said that standardizing is difficult in a competitive environment. Mr. Hasegawa said the hearing impaired would like a special button for crossing streets at night to alert them to fast moving cars and to alert the drivers of those cars that a hearing impaired person is about to cross the street. Prof. Sakamura countered that this type of function requires legislation, since specialized receivers would have to be installed in automobiles. Mr. Yamashita noted that the mentally disabled need help with place names, since they can confuse one with the other, e.g., Wakayama with Yokohama. Mr. Misaki said that the visually impaired would like to have available audio guides in buildings that they could download into their i-mode handsets on entering a building. However, Mr. Nakano pointed out that although such a system sounds like something that could easily be implemented, it isn't. When questions were taken from the floor, a disabled member of the audience noted that one cell-phone model he tried couldn't be used for anything but wireless telephone service. He pointed out the need for universal design. He also said he would like to buy tickets with his cell-phone. Prof. Sakamura said that in the final analysis, Japan needs a law of the type that now exists in the U.S.