At one time or another, device drivers have likely been the bane of your existence. The tiny bits of code that let one device connect to another have variably been buggy, incompatible with new operating systems or simply nonexistent. Now the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is proposing an alternative that would do away with traditional device drivers forever.
The system, called Obje, is a software framework that allows devices to “teach” each other how to communicate. For example, an Obje-enabled digital camera could be connected to a TV-top box running the Obje framework, and the two devices would immediately be able to talk and take advantage of each other’s features. One device could even send “mobile code” (in Java, C# or some other language) to another device to establish or enhance the connection with new features. And Obje doesn’t care how it connects: The Internet, USB ports and Wi-Fi connections are all possible options.
Besides its simplicity, Obje’s best feature may be how it scales to the future. Obje-enabled devices would automatically be able to take advantage of new technology from day one. If someone develops an Obje-ready 3-D camera, for instance, it could connect to any Obje-framework device without the need for software updates or driver disks.
Of course, a technology that can send mobile code from one device to another where it runs automatically will undoubtedly scare a few security pros. “[Obje is] raising some interesting opportunities,” says Hermann Calabria, principal of business development at PARC, “but it also raises a few eyebrows.” Calabria says PARC scientists have taken those concerns into consideration, however, and have included a number of security options, including the capability to have code digitally signed to help guarantee its safety.
Obje has been under development for three years and is just now ready for commercialization. PARC is looking for partners to bring the technology to market. For more information, visit www.parc.com/obje.