Oxygen Project

David Clark, senior research scientist, describes the Oxygen Project concept at SDM Business Trip

By Monica Nakamine
December 27, 2001

Accomplish more; work less.

An interesting concept – and one that folks at the Lab for Computer Science (LCS) and the Artificial Intelligence Lab are currently working on. The project is called the Oxygen Project and their mission is to "bring abundant computation and communication, as pervasive and free as air, naturally into people’s lives."

On October 23, 2001, SDM students had the chance to hear what the Oxygen Project is all about in more detail at the last SDM Business Trip, which was held throughout that week. As part of the many lectures, demonstrations, workshops, and events, the Oxygen Project presentation was among them, and to give it was David Clark, senior research scientist at LCS.

The Oxygen Project encompasses four essential elements:

  • User technologies
  • Interaction technologies
  • System technologies
  • Hardware and software architecture

"In the past, computers were expensive," said Clark. "More recently, we carry our own computers around with us. In the future, computation will be freely available everywhere, like batteries and power sockets, or oxygen in the air we breathe." Going beyond the concept of carrying a PDA or a laptop, the Oxygen Project is looking at ways in which computation can be embedded in the environment and not restrictive to personalized devices.

"For example, ‘anonymous’ devices will bring computation to us, no matter where we are or in what circumstances," said Clark. "These devices will personalize themselves in our presence by finding whatever information and software we need. We will not need to type or click, or learn computer jargon. We will communicate naturally, using speech, vision, and phrases that describe our intent."

Clark described a demonstration in which a person walks into a building where one of those "anonymous" devices is located. Using speech and face recognition, the device instantly recognizes him. The person can then ask it questions, using his own voice, without typing or punching in anything. "Show me my schedule," he would say, and the computer would show that the man has a meeting with Hari. "Show me where Hari is," he would then say, and the device will pinpoint where Hari is on a map.

There are many other scenarios that exemplify the broad range that the Oxygen Project encompasses; however, the Oxygen Project team has stipulated certain criteria that the Oxygen system must incorporate to meet their goals. The Oxygen system must be:

  • Pervasive – it must be everywhere;
  • Embedded – it must live in our world;
  • Nomadic – its users and computations must have the freedom to move about, and
  • Eternal – it must never shut down, close, freeze or reboot; non-stop, forever.

As wonderful as this all seems, the vision raises many difficult challenges. To meet the needs of Oxygen systems, hardware and software must be more fluid – adaptable and eternal, yet replaceable at a moment’s notice.

Despite these challenges, which are the focus of the Oxygen research, some heavy-hitters in the world of technology, business, and even government are backing this endeavor. The Information Technology Office and the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are sponsoring the Oxygen Project. Partnership alliances include Acer, Delta Electronics, HP, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, Nokia Research Center, and Philips Research.

"True innovation in Oxygen will come from MIT students, researchers, and others using Oxygen technologies and systems for their daily work," the Oxygen Project Web site points out. "Hence, Project Oxygen is building a system to use, and using it to build."