Posted by steve tateosian on October 10, 2011
Texas is experiencing one of the worst known droughts in its history this year. Drought brings fire, and the fires have certainly arrived. Wildfires have destroyed nearly 1,400 homes so far this year in Texas, and the fires continue to burn. “Some residents needed no urging to leave because they saw the flames lapping at the trees. Others heard from friends and neighbors, while still others found a sheriff’s deputy at their door or heard firemen rolling down the street with bullhorns. In most cases no one had to be told twice” according to CBSnews.com
In our age of microprocessors, hyper-connectivity and social media, is that what it still comes to: word of mouth and the sheriff at the door? “Information” is more than at our fingertips; it is often pushed to us whether we ask for it or not. Is there a better way to get people out of harm’s way? Sure there is, I suspect you have it next to you right now – your smart phone.
Proposals to push emergency information to phones are gaining traction in hurricane areas, such as Florida. The federal government has taken steps to establish such a system as well; the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act, or WARN Act. The general idea here is that if a geographic area is in danger; a warning message can be pushed to all the cell phones in that area. Sounds great? A bit like Twitter on steroids? “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Back to those Texas fires …. One particularly interesting challenge that individuals and emergency management professionals faced recently while fighting the Texas fires occurred just outside of Austin – a fire burning completely out of control in an area with 4,000 homes, but only one road out.
In this case, and I suspect in nearly all emergency cases, we need something smarter than geography-based panic inducing SPAM. What happens when you simultaneously inform masses of people that they are in harm’s way? Chaos.
Can technology and science bring order to chaos? Sure. Here’s an example not so different (but instead of people rushing a single exit, they squeeze through a single entrance). Jason Steffen, a particle physicist at Fermliab, has used his expertise of complex systems and motion to develop an airplane boarding procedure that proves more efficient than those currently in use.
The hyper-connectivity that is resulting from the dramatic increases that we are realizing with microprocessor technology is giving us the tools we need (we know where you are, how many are in an area, and can get you information at the push of a button) to instantly notify people. The next step is to help them respond in a way that limits the chaos. Microprocessors and connectivity are again combining to help in the form of auto-to-auto networks. Not only will they make driving safer and easier, but they will be useful in situations like this in Texas in the future to maximize traffic flow through the bottleneck, and bring order to the chaos.
At the age of 10 Mike begged his father to get him a computer. Never mind that at the time computers were the size of a large office and cost millions of dollars. Yes, Mike is no spring chicken and he didn’t get the computer, although his father did give him an abacus telling him that it would enable him to use the computer that he already had between his ears, which was not appreciated. Whether it was due to the trauma that resulted from using an abacus or just Mike’s love of anything electronic he has spent the last 30 years or so designing, building, and programming computers, microprocessors, and microcontrollers and developing applications that run on them. And his fascination continues with the definition of new processors and architectures in his search for the holy grail of computing: infinite performance at zero power consumption. Statistically speaking he is convinced it is just a matter of time.
Allen started in the ‘semiconductor IP industry’ before it was called the ‘semiconductor IP industry’. Back then, it was about ‘megafunctions’, ‘megablocks’ or MegaMacros™ (as trademarked by the pioneering UK IP company Allen was with… no, not that UK company). The biggest of these ‘mega’ things was an 8051! Today, of course, IP blocks are much larger and much more complex. And, it’s about the software, as well as the hardware. It’s also about working with a set of partners, sometimes called an ecosystem or community. Allen has been doing that for many years and is enjoying working with old and new friends on the ARC processor ecosystem.