Wolfram seeks to harvest data from Net-connected gadgets

The Mathematica developer's new Connected Device Project seeks to incorporate data from Net-connected devices and eventually make them programmable through the Wolfram Language.

The Wolfram Connected Device Project seeks to catalog devices and their attributes, then eventually let people use the data each device creates.
The Wolfram Connected Device Project seeks to catalog devices and their attributes, then eventually let people use the data each device creates. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Yes, even math Ph.D.s are getting in on the CES action.

On the opening day of CES 2014, Wolfram Research announced it has added a connected-devices section to its Wolfram Alpha knowledge repository. The Wolfram Connected Devices Project today offers a database of devices and their attributes, letting people search Wolfram Alpha for particulars about everything from wearable fitness devices and smartphones to Internet-connected scales and smoke detectors.

Just searching a description of devices is a bit ho-hum. In the long run, though, things get much more interesting: Wolfram plans to let people communicate with those devices, for example, harvesting data and processing it.

"In the end, our goal is not just to deal with information about devices, but actually be able to connect to the devices and get data from them -- and then do all sorts of things with that data," company founder and Chief Executive Stephen Wolfram said in a blog post Monday. To achieve that ambitious goal, though, Wolfram and others will have to write drivers that communicate with each of those devices.

It's an important goal for the company, which is best known for its Mathematica software. Ultimately, Wolfram wants to make huge swaths of reality programmable via its Wolfram Language . It's a fitting concept for a mathematically minded CEO whose mammoth book, "A New Kind of Science," posits that simple computer programs can be combined to "construct a single truly fundamental theory of physics, from which space, time, quantum mechanics, and all other known features of our universe will emerge."

Closer to the here and now, Wolfram also hopes to bring some brains to Net-connected devices. The company announced it's bringing a version of Wolfram Language to the new Intel Edison , a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-connected, SD-card-sized computer with a Quark processor that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. announced on Monday.

The Wolfram Language runs on the new Intel Edison, a tiny SD Card-sized computer with an Intel Quark processor.
The Wolfram Language runs on the new Intel Edison, a tiny SD-Card-sized computer with an Intel Quark processor. Stephen Wolfram

"Fitting a real computer into an SD-card form factor is a remarkable technical feat that's suddenly going to make it easy for all sorts of formerly 'dumb' devices to compute," said Wolfram Research Executive Director Luc Barthelet in a statement. "It's a great fit with our long-term strategy of injecting sophisticated computation and knowledge into everything."

The start of Wolfram's device work is cataloging what's out there.

Wolfram Alpha search results give precise answers with the structured data about gadgets. But it also requires precise queries with formatting requirements far more persnickety than Google's open-ended syntax.

For example, you can search for Android smartphones under $300 and get a useful answer, but not Android smartphones under $300 with LTE. Once you do get an answer, Wolfram Alpha presents you with interesting data -- a distribution of the products' time on market and a ranking of price by brand.

Some of the data needs work: For 60 percent of smartphones costing less than $600, Wolfram doesn't know if they can download games. Wolfram's data may be curated, but that doesn't mean it's perfect.

With the data currently in Wolfram Alpha, people can get graphical representations of information smartphones.
With the data in Wolfram Alpha, people can get graphical representations of information smartphones. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

 

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