Sun’s Real Time Java Challenge is � Slot Cars?

MENLO PARK, CALIF. — Sun Microsystems is going to have a bit of fun at
its JavaOne conference later this
month
with the first Slot Car Programming Challenge.

The purpose behind the Challenge is a bit more serious, however. Sun says
it wants attendees to experience the Real Time Java (RTJ, also known as
RTJS, or Real Time Java Specification) version of Java.


“One of the problems with Real Time Java is that everyone says it’s really
hard to use,” said Greg Bollella, a distinguished engineer at Sun involved
in the Slot Car challenge. “We’re saying it’s very easy to get started with,
though it can get harder later [depending on the complexity of the
project].”

He said RTJ should be mostly straightforward to work in for experienced Java programmers.


Sun doesn’t expect a large number of RTJ programmers to be at JavaOne and
readily admits the programming language has a narrow following. But where it
is used and can be used are in significant areas of the economy, such as
stock trading and telecommunications.


“Stock traders tells us they are in a technology arms race versus the
competition,” said Bollella in an interview at a major Sun facility here where a demo track connected to a programming
workstation is installed.


While Java and other languages are suitable for Web and business computing
needs, Bollella said RTJ has advantages in areas where speed isn’t always as
important as predictability. In a transportation or stock trading system,
for example, you want to be able to predict certain conditions like
scheduling and precise timing.


One example of RTJ’s potential, Bollella predicts that in ten years
emergency vehicles won’t have to stop for red lights. “We’ll have real time
telemetry and the emergency vehicles can just go without sirens or waiting
for red lights.”


Although there are sensors programmed for street lights now, Bollella said
they generally don’t work very well.

“We’ve all had the experience of being the only car around and we still have
to wait for the light to change. I suspect the reason is [the system’s
designers] used crappy programming languages.”


So why the Slot Car Programming Challenge?


“We want to get engineers to think about something else,” said James
Gosling, a Sun vice president and Fellow, who did the original
design of Java
and implemented its original compiler and virtual
machine. Gosling has also been a recent contributor to RTJ.


Slot car racing, though a long way from its glory
days
in the 1960s, is still popular in some circles.


The Slot Car Programming Challenge involves the small, 1/24 scale cars with
electric motors that move around on a track. Normally, these cars are driven
through a small handheld controller that you push down to send voltage to
the car to make it go faster, and lift up to slow it down.


As in the classic controller-driven race, the challenge for RTJ programmers
is to make it around the track as fast as possible without going so fast
around the corners the car wipes out.


However, the Slot Car Programming challenge is a little different. At
JavaOne, Sun will have 100-200 feet of race track embedded with 200
sensors. The program can detect whether or not the car is over a sensor, but
it can’t tell which sensor. All the sensors will be merged together.

Developers who enter the Challenge have to write a polling loop that gathers
the sensor data and continually monitors whether the car is over a sensor. Sun will give prizes to the top ten best times and plans to have the three finalists race on stage at the event.


“A lot of [developers] have an amazingly weak grasp of physics,” said
Gosling. “We’ve become a much more connected world and there’s a lot more to
program for than Web services.”

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