Research Projects NTT-MIT Research Collaboration: a partnership in the future of communication and computation

A Framework for Automation Using Networked Information Appliances


Start date: 07/99

Srinivas Devadas and Larry Rudolph

Satoshi Ono

Project summary

The keys to making all our daily devices more useable are having networked computers embedded in them, and having easy intuitive ways for people to program the devices to do the things they want them to do.

Project description


The proliferation of diverse and heterogeneous information appliances has produced a new set of problems, challenges, and opportunities. We are building a development infrastructure for information automation that combines the synergistic use of sensors, standard hardware interfaces, intelligent software, and adaptive algorithms in order to rapidly produce intelligent, networked information appliances. Using our infrastructure, we will automate many information-intensive tasks in office and home automation.

We are building a computing platform that consists of locally networked computational elements attached to sensors and actuators. The sensors provide image, audio, pressure or position input. The computers control actuators within appliances and also interface with other appliances. Not only is intelligent application software is fully customizable and adaptable to user preferences, but it also makes use of our middleware that seamlessly integrates new custom or commodity sensors and actuators. This framework of computers, sensors and intelligent software allows for the rapid deployment of a wide variety of information automation problems. We believe that the deployment of such a solution should take no more than a week, including customizing hardware and writing software applications.

Demos, movies and other examples

Some background to our research

Information appliances, such as televisions, telephones, personal computers (PCs), and compact disc players, present the interface between information streams (e.g., television programming, cellular channels, CD data) and people. As pervasive information access from our workplaces, our schools, our homes, and even our cars becomes necessary, choosing the appropriate set of information appliances which provides a convenient and intuitive interface becomes increasingly important.
In line with entrenched consumer behavior it is becoming clear that tomorrow's digital information appliances will have to be a set of diverse and simple devices similar to today's base of home and office appliances (rather than a central PC mimicking different functionality). Accordingly, each digital information appliance must comprise the appliance-specific components (e.g., the TV picture tube or telephone handset) and the compute-engine. The differences in lifetime for computer components (0.5-1.5 years) and appliance-specific components (5-12 years) suggests a modular three-level construction for information appliances in which users can upgrade 1. the software, 2. the computer platform, and 3. the appliance-specific components independent of the others.
The MASC (Modular Appliance Super Computer) Information Appliances System (Patents Pending) is a "three-level" approach to rapidly developing digital information appliances. It is based on using small credit-card sized computer and input/output (I/O) cards which users can easily connect to external sockets on host information appliances, be it home televisions, office telephones, or car navigational systems. Essentially, this approach reverses the traditional computing paradigm of adding the peripheral to the computer and instead, suggests adding the computer to the peripheral. This paradigm reversal places the computer platform as a cheap component that users can easily replace in order to track the rapid growth in computer technology. Upgrading the computer hardware platform is especially important as oftentimes software upgrades first require computer hardware upgrades.MASC computer cards form the compute-engine whereas MASC I/O cards allow alternate forms of interaction than those already supported by the appliance. For example, an user can play video games on his television by simply downloading the game program onto the TV's MASC computer card and can interact with the game by using a MASC joystick card. All MASC cards implement a common interface with all host appliances and allow users to simply remove a card from one appliance and connect it to another one, whereby adding intelligence to it at zero marginal cost.As we move forth into the Information Age, MASC-based information appliances will provide a simple, economical, and powerful mechanism to support new digital content and services into homes, offices, and automobiles.

The principal investigators

Presentations and posters


Chatterjee, S., and S. Devadas, "The MASC Composable Computing Infrastructure for Industrial Automation", Proceedings of the 25th Annual Conference of the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society (IECON-99), November 1999.

Proposals and progress reports


NTT Bi-Annual Progress Report, July to December 1999:

NTT Bi-Annual Progress Report, January to June 2000:

For more information