Memory cards make connections

By Eric Smalley, Technology Research News

Connecting any two devices on a network, even if they reside close to one another, can involve searching through directories of names or screenfulls of icons. There are times when physically connecting the devices with a cable would be easier.

Researchers from Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. have devised a type of removable media that acts as a virtual wire and as a shared memory card. The cards, dubbed TranSticks, are based on Sony's Memory Stick flash memory cards and are visually coded by color and with symbols. Card pairs contain the same ID and key. Conceptually, a pair of cards are like the two ends of a cable.

A pair of the cards allows users to form a connection between devices on a network -- the Internet or a local network, wired or wireless -- by plugging the cards into the devices in question rather than using software, said Yuji Ayatsuka, an assistant researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories Inc. in Japan. "TranSticks allow a user to select a target in a physical manner."

The virtual wire capability can be used to connect laptop computers to slide projectors and music players to speakers. TranSticks are especially appropriate for applications like audio/visual devices in the home whose connections are frequently changed, said Ayatsuka.

The cards can also be used to allow two computers to share memory on a server. The shared memory capability can be used to create a shared memory space for two computers on a network server that users perceive as being on the paired cards, and can be used to synchronize files when a pair of cards come online.

The paired card approach is simpler than making connections among networked devices using software, said Ayatsuka. "With software-based approaches a user has to select a target from a list, possibly including lots of names or icons on a display, or a system [has to detect the] correct target automatically," he said. This "may be very difficult in an environment with lots of networked devices."

A card plugged into a device can find an intended target by searching for the device the card's mate is plugged into, said Ayatsuka. This way a user does not have to know the names and addresses of a pair of devices to connect them, he said.

The paired cards make it possible for a user to see which devices are connected to each other, and if the user moves a card to another device, the TranSticks will search for each other again, he said.

The TransStick system consists of cards, slots, and the software that connects devices containing the cards. The researchers also created a device for converting Memory Stick cards into TransSticks. The initialization device, which is not networked, generates a random 128 bit ID and a random 1024 to 1280 bit secret key and writes them to a pair of cards in its two slots.

The cards' secret keys encrypt the process of finding a paired TranStick. When a card is plugged into a device, it sends its ID to a predetermined server, which sends a random string of bits back to the card. The card calculates a number using the random string and its secret key and sends this authentication number to the server. When the card's mate comes onto the network, the server enables the cards to exchange calculated numbers to authenticate each other. The cards use their shared secret key to verify the number, and each informs the server that it has authenticated the other. The server then forwards each card's network address to the other.

The system could be used practically within two years, according to Ayatsuka.

Ayatsuka's colleague was Jun Rekimoto. They presented the work at the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI 2004) conference on April 28 in Vienna, Austria. The work was funded by Sony Corporation.

Timeline:  < 2 years
Funding:   Corporate
TRN Categories:   Networking
Story Type:   News
Related Elements:  Technical paper, "TranSticks: Media Virtually Connected beyond Space," Computer-Human Interaction (CHI 2004), Vienna, Austria, April 28


June 30/July 7, 2004

Page One

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Holograms enable pocket projectors

Memory cards make connections

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Paper promises better e-paper
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