Completition: Jul 2012
Technologies used: XBee, ZigBee, 802.15.4, Bluetooth, WiFi, Infrared
In order to achieve my MA degree in Interactive Media at the University of the Arts London, I have written my dissertation about
The gap between rapid innovation and its application
Revealing a vacancy using the example of radio frequency communication in physical computing projects
Why radio frequency communication?
During my physical computing project we required the use of wireless communication between the controllers and the computer in order keep the “magic” effect. This project for me was the first one where I had to deal with these technologies. Since I had no experience in radio frequency communications yet, I was not sure which of them might be the most suitable one for our purpose. It took me a lot of reading about each of the most common ones – which I nailed down to infrared, Bluetooth, WiFi, and the ZigBee protocol. In the end I still was not sure which would end up to be the best choice, but since I was running out of time I decided using XBees Series 2 with the ZigBee protocol. Only when I came to the end of the development stage I realised that the Series 1 XBees would have been sufficient for the star network I had built.
At this point many questions arose in my mind: Why is it so complicated to choose a proper technology?
- Did I do something wrong in the beginning? Is there an overview already available that leads developers to the most suitable technology?
- How did other developers weigh up their options? What was their path and their reasons?
- Can there be some general guidelines to help developers making their choice?
Let’s find some answers!
Having my research unit right after this physical computing project came in fairly handy for me. I therewith got the opportunity to spend my time thinking about these questions and trying to find some answers for them.
I put my research into a wider scope as such issues in finding the suitable technology not only occur in radio frequency communication:
The goal of this dissertation is to point out a gap between innovation and those who want to apply the new technology in their projects. The work thereby uses the example of radio frequency communication in the area of physical computing. This should help to illustrate, how much research it requires to comprehend these technological innovations in order to being able to decide for the best suitable solution and then also to implement it appropriately.
To guarantee an investigation that stays close to current practice, the dissertation analyses two case studies which use different kinds of radio frequency communication technologies. The initiators of both projects have been interviewed by the author to gather fundamental background knowledge. This enabled a deeper insight and examination, and therewith a more precise evaluation of the case studies.
The research evidences a missing element between science and application that facilitates communication and translation among the parties, and therewith advances the progress in terms of the application of technological innovations. Consequently, the concept of an existing gap is being proved.
Basic research: Comparing protocols
In order to not extend the scope of my dissertation I focused on the radio frequency communication protocols which are the hardest to distinguish – both in their functionality and their purposes: Bluetooth, WiFi, and 802.15.4. I decided for eight criteria to evaluate. The following table shows the results of my investigations:
Applied research: Case studies
Having acquired an substantial background knowledge I was ready to interview the makers of two projects that use different kinds of RF (radio frequency) communication protocols. The following describes my overall findings from each case study:
This case study showed that a major difficulty when working with technologies is their complexity. The two protocols 802.15.4 and ZigBee appear to have the same purpose – low data rate and low power transmission. But, when looking closer into ￼their characteristics, it reveals that 802.15.4 is only capable of point-to-point and star networks, and the enhancement, ZigBee, additionally of mesh networks. this seems to be a minor disparity, yet in practice it makes a decisive difference.
Hence, it requires expert knowledge to distinguish between such similar, but still very different technologies.
Blair Kelly published our interview on this blog at http://www.blairkelly.ca/2012/07/25/why-wifly/.
A major influence in technological development has the factor time. Kelly wanted to use the Wi-Fi BacPacTM for transmitting the video data. Unfortunately, the accessory has not been available yet in april 2012. it would have made the entire process a lot easier, since it spares the developer the time for configuring video transmitter and receiver. Less than two months later, in June 2012, the BacPacTM was offered for sale.
Issues in the industry
- Similarity and difference
- Time and speed
Proposal for solution
The industry lacks intermediaries who research the highly complex technical specifications to an extent for being able to estimate the most suitable technology for the respective project. In order to do so, intermediaries require to specify criteria based on which the technologies are compared and evaluated. Furthermore, the collected data and findings need to be visualised in a way to allow an easy access and a quick comprehension.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in reading the original dissertation.