Embedded Linux+Java -- wave of the future?

The world of intelligent devices is changing dramatically. The computerized devices around us are getting smarter, they're increasingly connected and interdependent, and they're becoming vastly more numerous. And all this is happening at an ever increasing rate.

A fertile field for Linux . . .

As the number and variety of devices with embedded intelligence grow exponentially, the need to minimize cost and maximize specialization increases correspondingly. Hence, Embedded Linux becomes a highly desirable technology for the operating system due to its scalability, configurability, and affordability.

It's worth noting that until recently, the "cost penalty" associated with the CPU and memory resources necessary to run Linux had been a somewhat limiting factor relative to using it in cost sensitive devices. Now, however, the baseline needs of embedding Linux -- roughly 2M Flash and 4M RAM memory and a moderate speed processor (100+ MIPS?) -- have become reasonably inexpensive, thanks in large measure to Moore's Law.

. . . and Java

Although Java failed to hit the target for which it was initially developed, which was, ironically, to serve as an embedded operating system within smart devices, Java ended up providing a convenient means to enable moving applications around among computing devices -- propelled to this position by the dramatic emergence of the Web.

Today, despite its early failure as an embedded operating system, Java is showing promise in the role of providing a device-independent application platform, running on top of the embedded operating system. In this case, rather than serving as the operating system itself, Java provides the benefit of masking the unique aspects of the underlying device and providing an array of services beyond those offered by the embedded OS.

In the context of an exponential proliferation of smart devices, Java is emerging as a handy way to minimize device-specific development and allow developers to focus on the truly unique aspects of their projects. Increasingly, Java is providing a means to obtain functionality like GUIs, Web browsers, protocol stacks, handwriting and speech recognition, wireless communications, multimedia support, database management, and a wide range of remote services.

One interesting example of a product based on a combination of embedded Java+Linux is a consumer entertainment system that was recently announced by Hewlett-Packard. The HP Digital Entertainment Center is basically a home entertainment appliance that brings digital music and information via broadband and home networks into the living room -- without a PC. The system connects like an audio component to a normal home stereo system and can be used to burn custom CDs, create/store/organize MP3 files on its large internal hard disk, transfer music to digital music players, and listen to Internet radio.

"HP embraced Linux for consumer appliances because of its open source and community support," explains William Woo, General Manager of Hewlett-Packard's Embedded Software Operation. "We have customized Linux for use as an HP embedded OS and combined it with our HP Chai technology to create an embedded software solution with a Java application environment and web connectivity. HP Chai supports Java applications for delivering e-services to create a rich consumer experience."

Movie Magic

Over the years, many films have stretched contemporary limits and enthralled audiences by producing mesmerising visuals. One could perceive a noticeable push towards special effects with the advent of computer-generated imaging (CGI).

The history of special effects goes back a long way, but CGI is relatively new. Computers were cumbersome things in the early 1970s, and an entire mainframe working for months could produce a few minutes of computer graphics. Graphics imaging in those days was primarily based on vector manipulation and involved huge chunks of code.

The entertainment world underwent a major change in the 1980s when images in Tron, Star Trek II, The Last Starfighter, and Young Sherlock Holmes gave the audience a taste of the future. The Abyss (1989) and the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1990). In 1993, ILM smashed all previous conceptions about computer graphics when the photo-realistic dinosaurs in Jurassic Park took centre stage in theatres around the world.

What are the techniques that have made it possible for us to experience these dazzling effects?

Digital compositing
has been one of the most fruitful techniques to seamlessly composite hundred’s even thousand’s of scene elements to create some stunning sequences from elementary stuff shot on green screens. You can create a background (like the crowds in the car race scene in Phantom Menace), or surgically tailor two people (Forrest Gump), or create an entire environment. It is a method for combining two or more images. Ideally, the combined image looks exactly like the image that would have arisen from combining the scenes.

In movie The Mask Morphing was used to manipulate his body into all kinds of contortions, mostly resembling cartoon animation.. Morphing is a technique used to transfer from one image to another. The idea is to make it appear as if one item is physically changing into the other. The animators select points which are similar on the two elements. For example eyes, ears, hair, and other such features work well for faces. This technique was also used in Michael Jackson’s music video Black or White and the Schwarzenegger thriller Terminator 2.

Motion capture
Another technique is motion capture, the creation of a 3D representation of a live performance. It is the process of capturing the movement of a real object and mapping it onto a computer generated object. Usually, Motion Capture is used to create synthetic actors by capturing the motions of real humans. In this case, special markers are placed over the joints of actors. Then, a special hardware samples the position and/or orientation of those markers in time, generating a set of motion data, also known as motion curves. This technique has been used by special effects companies to produce incredible realistic animations in movies such as Star Wars I, Titanic, Starship Troopers, Species, Batman, Terminator 2 and others

The sensor system that maps the live actor’s movement can be optical, electromagnetic, or even electromechanical in some cases. This technique has been heavely used in Sinbad: Beyond the Vale of Mists

Virtual camera movement is a cinematographic process that involves capturing the same image from different points simultaneously, but playing it back in sequence. One application of this process is a system of recording moving motion picture scenes that appear frozen in time. Similar but more advanced techniques were used in movie The Matrix
Technique which was used to create illusion of flying bicycle in ET, Leia or Luke flying at 100 mph on their speeder bike through the forest in Return of the Jedi is known as traveling matte or blue screen. This technique allows actors and scale models to find themselves in totally imaginary situations -- in space ships, dangling from rope bridges over gorges, flying through the air. If director wants to create the effect of actors walking across a large, flat plain while the sky boils with dark clouds, the cameraman can first shoot the actors on the plain. When this shot is created, the area of the sky is masked out. The scene is shot normally, but in the camera the film is exposed on only one half of the frame. Then, the camera operator rewinds the film in the camera, puts a piece of black paper on the lens to mask out the portion of the film already exposed, and films the clouds of a thunderstorm.

Today, anything is possible on screen. The success of Antz, Toy Story and A Bug’s Life has given way to a new genre of 3D animation movies. Mighty Joe Young, for example, had a computer generated gorilla that had its fur rippling in the breeze. Columbia Picture’s digital mouse Stuart Little has more than half a million digital hair that make up his head. Stuart’s clothes were digitally tailored not only to fit, but to crinkle and bend naturally.

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