Wolfram offers data analysis stack to device makers

At CES, Wolfram is pitching its numerical analysis middleware as the lingua franca for the so-called Internet of Things

Banking on its deep expertise in mathematical analysis and visualization, Wolfram Research is extending its set of tools so they can be used by portable device manufacturers to offer richer, more interactive data to their users.

At this year's CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Wolfram, makers of the widely-used Mathematica numerical analysis software, has launched a set of middleware that it hopes will serve as the lingua franca for the so-called Internet of Things.

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"We've been interacting with many device manufacturers over the past year or so. And it's been very encouraging. Because it seems as if the technology stack we've been building all these years is exactly what people need," said Stephen Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram Research, in a Monday blog post announcing the new initiative.

The new WDF (Wolfram Data Framework) can serve as a bridge between data-collecting electronic devices and desktop or cloud-based analytical services, according to the company.

Wolfram has also launched a directory of consumer and industrial devices that use the framework, called the Wolfram Connected Devices Project, which compiles the characteristics and specifications of each device in a structured database so they can be easily searched and compared.

Today, network-connected portable devices are being developed that generate an increasingly large amount of data on behalf of their users.

Think of a sports watch that monitors the user's heart rate, or a bathroom scale that communicates the user's weight to a nearby computer by WiFi.

Manufacturers themselves typically develop the software that displays and aggregates the information from their devices, with varying degrees of sophistication.

Wolfram has developed a set of tools to ease the job. While not traditionally thought of as a provider of tools to help develop mobile software, Wolfram nonetheless brings two distinct advantages to the market, both of which come from its extensive work on Mathematica, Wolfram asserted.

One advantage is the company's vast library for handling physical quantities and their units of measurement. The company has compiled nearly 10,000 units of measurement, covering almost everything any device could possible keep track of, such as length, time, acceleration, torque, or tensile strength, all in a wide variety of scales.

These measurements are all encapsulated in the company's WDF, which, according to Wolfram, "provides an immediate way to represent not just raw numbers from a device, but, say, images or geopositions -- or actual measured physical quantities." Using WDF could save much of the work of writing the conversion algorithms from scratch.

Wolfram also offers a head-start in data representation, through the company's Wolfram Data Science Platform. The platform provides a way to visualize, analyze, and interact with data, using the Wolfram Language, a general purpose language developed by Wolfram Research.

To use these capabilities, a device manufacturer would install a Wolfram Language driver on each device, one that delivers the low level data to the WDF, which in turn could convert it into more sophisticated data structures.

WDF-based services could then be run either on a local computer, or as a cloud service by the device manufacturer.

Using WDF devices, a jogger, for instance, could easily compare the times of his or her recent runs, as captured on a sports watch, or analyze them for long-term trends. Then, the jogging times can be combined with daily weight taken from a bathroom scale, so the two sets of data can be correlated to observe the effect of jogging on average daily weight.

Or, a hospital could compile patient data from a variety of WDF diagnostic instruments, to have all the information in one location.

In addition to health monitoring, connected electronic devices could deliver information about a wide range of activities, such as home energy usage or the location of children and pets.

The WDF datasets would be richer than those typically offered now, because they are in a more structured and computationally friendly format, Wolfram argued. Instead of using a simple dashboard, users could deploy a search engine to specify the exact parameters of information that they are seeking.

Already some Wolfram software has made it into portable devices. For instance, the Wolfram Language is already bundled into the Raspberry Pi $25 Linux computer.

The company also announced it is working with Intel to develop a version of the Wolfram Language for Intel's Edison, an embeddable computer the size of an SD flash storage card. Wolfram expects the Edison, which Intel announced at CES, to be used in a wide range of portable devices.

The Wolfram Connected Devices Program will serve as a directory of devices that could support the WDF. Thus far, the company has compiled basic entries on a few thousand devices, including kitchen scales, sport watches and GPS devices. Overall, products from about 300 different companies are represented in the database.

Visitors of the directory can use the Wolfram|Alpha search engine to search for, and compare, devices, by their individual characteristics.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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