AT&T wants to tap the open-source community to develop cool applications for connected wearables, mobile devices, home appliances and cars.
The company is taking employee suggestions for applications and rapidly prototyping the most popular ones, which are then considered for commercial use. The program involves outreach to external developers by opening up APIs (application programming interfaces) to help turn the prototypes into products.
Open-source developers will play an important role in creating apps, policy and management tools, said Marian Croak, senior vice president of applications and services infrastructure at the company. AT&T wants to orchestrate data transfer for sensors and mobile devices over its wired and wireless networks, she said.
"We're working with the outside development community so they can innovate as well," Croak said. "We're not a company that believes we can do it all ourselves."
AT&T demonstrated the sort of innovative applications the program embraces at an event in New York last week. The most interesting was smart luggage that can be tracked in real time via mobile devices. Another product was a vehicle sensor that can automatically switch on a household's air conditioning, shut off its security system or switch lights on when a car pulls into the driveway. Researchers also talked about an intelligent health wristband that could automatically crank up an air conditioner to lower temperature depending on pulse rate. Many of the applications shown were conceived internally, but developed with contributions from the open-source community.
"We do very rapid prototyping. The ones that look most promising go right into the production and realization process," Croak said.
The company has a rich history of innovation that encompasses Bell Labs and the AT&T Foundry, which has developed security, tracking, authentication, translation and video delivery applications for use on the network.
Over time, AT&T intends to open up more of its network to external developers to build such services. Croak gave an example of a customized application in which a parent disables text messaging on a mobile phone when a child is driving. That would require defining the policy and application orchestration engines for an action to take effect, depending on location and circumstance.
Companies will also be able to assign specific levels of bandwidth to applications or departments as AT&T expands capacity and changes its network topology to create a distributed communication system.
"We're building it in a way so that we'll have a repository of service and network functions almost like in a catalog that you as an outsider .... can take and reuse those objects and build and connect them in a way to compose your own service set," Croak said.
Croak noted that AT&T stepped up its collaboration with the open-source community when it started virtualizing its network through software-defined networking. SDN allows for the addition of users and services through software rather than manual changes to hardware, making more efficient use of network bandwidth.
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