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Wednesday, February 10, 1999 Published at 13:05 GMT


Surfing on a matchbox

This computer runs a web site

The smallest web server yet has been built and is now running a website.

It is one tenth the size of a Palm Pilot and dwarfed by a typical desktop computer, which is 3,000 times larger.

The matchbox-sized server was built from standard components by Professor Vaughan Pratt, a computer scientist at Stanford University, California.

"It's basically a powerful little computer and we could have set it up for a number of different uses," he said. "But, because most people think of servers as mysterious boxes, located in dark basements, I thought making it into a web server was particularly dramatic."

Computer clothes

The new Stanford web server is one of the first projects from a new Wearables Laboratory that Professor Pratt has started to develop computers that can be incorporated in clothing.

"Put this computer into your shirt pocket, hook it to a wireless modem, and you could carry it around with you," Professor Pratt says.

The tiny computer's vital statistics are:

  • 6.9 x 4.3 x 0.6 cm in size
  • AMD 486-SX computer,
  • 66 MHz CPU
  • 16 MB RAM
  • 16 MB flash ROM
  • partial version of RedHat 5.2 Linux operating system
  • 2 watts from a 5V power supply at 100% CPU usage

    Professor Pratt believes the biggest obstacle to a truly wearable computer is the lack of an easy, compact way of inputting data. Professor Pratt and doctoral student Greg Defouw are now working on a special glove that can recognize a digital sign language, called Thumbcode.

    The talking type

    Future versions of the matchbox computer should be powerful enough to run voice recognition software, he says.

    The Wearables group is already working on a more powerful server, combining a credit-card-size Pentium motherboard with a new 340 MB hard drive from IBM that is a fraction of an inch thick and less than five centimetres on a side.

    The previous world's smallest web server was a custom computer from Phar Lap Software, more than 10 times the size of the new one. The Phar Lap server provides up-to-date local weather data for Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Its purpose is to show how "embedded systems" can connect to the World Wide Web. Embedded systems are computers fitted in devices ranging from refrigerators to lifts to medical instruments.

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