Wristwatches designed to receive and display continuous, up-to-date information through the use of a new nationwide wireless communication technology will be available in the fall of 2003, announced Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates last night in his keynote address at the 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The watches, created with the world’s leading watch brands and manufacturers including Citizen Watch Co., Fossil Inc. and Suunto, are being built using Microsoft® Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT). Wristwatches incorporating SPOT constitute the first incarnation of truly “smart” objects: everyday devices whose core purposes are enhanced through easy-to-use software.
As demonstrated during Gates’ keynote address, the new SPOT-based watches are fashionable timepieces with enhanced timekeeping characteristics such as customizable watch faces and automatic time-adjustment based on location. In addition, the watches receive and display convenient, timely, personalized Web content from a variety of sources using Microsoft’s new DirectBand wireless technology, which enables tiny, low-cost, very-low-power, integrated radio receiver solutions.
“Microsoft’s vision with Smart Personal Objects Technology is to improve people’s lives by making everyday objects smarter and better at their core functions,” said Bill Mitchell, founder and general manager of the SPOT initiative at Microsoft. “We’re excited to see our watchmaker partners Citizen, Fossil and Suunto developing collections of fashionable watches that go beyond classic timekeeping to provide convenient access to timely, relevant and personalized information.”
The Value of Smart Personal Objects Technology
The class of Smart Personal Objects includes watches and a host of other products such as alarm clocks, key chains and refrigerator-magnet clocks that are able to receive high-value, personalized information that is time-, location- and context-relevant.
An easy-to-use configuration Web page enables customers to select the type of information and services they want to receive on the devices; this content is subsequently beamed to and displayed on the smart object. Information available to users on devices using Smart Personal Objects Technology initially includes personal messages; calendar updates; and customized news, weather, financial and sports information.
A New Computing Platform
Smart Personal Object Technology-based devices are built on a computing infrastructure developed from the ground up in Microsoft Research. By developing a new platform that integrates software and hardware into a new custom chipset, the Smart Personal Objects Technology Group was able to create an optimized solution that addresses the challenging power, cost and physical size requirements of the initial class of timepiece-based Smart Personal Objects.
Microsoft worked with National Semiconductor Corp. for more than two years to plan and build a chipset to power wristwatches and other SPOT-based devices. This chipset consists of an application chip with an ARM7 CPU, ROM and SRAM, and a tiny, sensitive 100MHz RF receiver chip.
Microsoft’s DirectBand is a set of innovative technologies enabling transmission of Web-based information to smart objects. DirectBand includes a custom radio receiver, a wide area network based on FM subcarrier technology and new radio protocols created to meet the unique communication requirements of smart objects. Microsoft collaborated with SCA Data Systems Inc., a leader in FM subcarrier technology, to design this unique high-bit-rate, noise-tolerant radio system. To build the wide area network, Microsoft is working with a number of broadcasters including Clear Channel Communications Inc., Entercom Communications Corp., Greater Media Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. DirectBand’s initial coverage area will include more than 100 of the largest population centers in North America, representing cities in all 50 states and the largest cities in Canada.
“Smart Personal Objects Technology will enable mainstream fashion watches to become more timely, personalized and useful. But SPOT is also an important step toward a truly personal computing future in which people access important information seamlessly any time, any place and on a variety of devices,” Mitchell said. “We foresee a time when smart objects, PCs and computing appliances interact with each other in complementary ways, each serving roles to which they are uniquely suited.”