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Perst Lite Brings Embedded Database Superpowers to Carbon Hero

October 6, 2008 — A new mobile application from UK- and Netherlands-based startup Carbon Hero resides on a BlackBerry, Nokia Nseries or other smartphone, tracks the user’s travels and automatically calculates the resulting CO2 emissions or “carbon footprint,” to give an immediate understanding of personal environmental impact.

That’s a hefty task for a tiny device. Carbon Hero pulls it off via savvy coding in Java ME, the embedded Java technology deployed in billions of mobile devices worldwide. Carbon Hero’s software innovation includes custom algorithms that detect transport mode (such as car vs. jet airplane) and leverage the mobile phone’s built-in GPS to find distance travelled, as well as the Perst™ Lite open source, object-oriented embedded database from McObject®, which enables fast and efficient management of GIS and other critical data within the device’s tight memory and storage restrictions.

With the threat of global warming, “people are increasingly interested in their personal carbon use, and how they can reduce it,” Andreas Zachariah, Carbon Hero CEO, said. But until now, that required laborious data entry in on-line carbon calculators, and “we are all typically way too busy for that,” he said.

That sparked the idea for the Carbon Hero software, which rides along in technology that is already carried by millions of people. The application is now in field testing on BlackBerry devices. Company co-founders Zachariah and Nick Burch (the CTO) have also deployed it on Nokia phones and plan to add other platforms.

Users enter the make and model of car they drive. Carbon Hero does the rest, socking away data on movement, velocity, transportation and other factors to arrive at the user’s total carbon footprint. The application compares that against different averages, and calculates recent improvements – or bad carbon-related behavior.

These operations require Carbon Hero to store, retrieve and filter copious amounts of data. “A challenge we faced early on was effectively managing the user and mapping databases on devices with built-in storage ranging as low as several megabytes, and severely limited RAM,” Burch said. “We needed these resources to be available for data storage and application functions, so data management overhead had to be absolutely minimal.”

To address the task, the company considered “rolling its own” data management code, but was happy to discard that idea when it discovered McObject’s Perst Lite embedded database, which is both lightweight and offers powerful tools to maximize data management efficiency.

For example, Perst Lite supports R-Trees, a data index type that is specialized for managing geographic data. “The fast, efficient GIS indexing is just what we need for all of our mapping,” Burch said. For other functions, Carbon Hero relies on Perst Lite’s SortedCollections (implemented using T-Tree indexes) and TimeSeries classes.

In addition, Perst Lite’s support for Java’s JSR 75 specification enables Carbon Hero to store records using a file system in flash memory, an SD card or other media. This improves performance and storage resource utilization markedly compared to using the Java ME Record Management System (RMS) persistent storage mechanism, Burch said.

As an object-oriented database, Perst Lite adds still more efficiency by storing data directly in Java objects, eliminating the translation required for storage in relational and object-relational databases. This boosts run-time performance.

Burch praised Perst Lite’s open source, dual licensing distribution for making development as easy as possible. “We were able to get the source code straight away, and start playing. If we wondered how something worked, we could look at the source code, if desired. And McObject’s technical support has been excellent,” he said.

Zachariah and Burch have jointly filed for a patent on Carbon Hero’s invention, and the idea has won a Sustainability Design Award from the British Standards Institute, among other honors. Headquarters is in the technology business incubator of the European Space Agency.

The company foresees the application eventually running on a wide variety of GPS-enabled mobile devices. A key target market is corporations, which will need to know the carbon footprint of their activities, including employee travel, to participate in governments’ cap-and-trade carbon emissions reduction programs, and for corporate reputation management, as consumers increasingly base purchasing decisions on producers’ green credentials, Zachariah said.

Ideally, manufacturers will pre-install Carbon Hero on new smartphones, he said. Right now such devices arrive with games and novelty software, but “what’s to say that something like this, which is a green, societal application, cannot be on there?” Zachariah said.

About McObject

Founded by embedded database and real-time systems experts, McObject offers proven data management technology that makes real-time systems smarter, more reliable and more cost-effective to develop and maintain. McObject counts among its customers industry leaders such as Chrysler, Lockheed Martin, Siemens, Phillips, EADS, JVC, Tyco Thermal Controls, F5 Networks, CA, Motorola and Boeing. McObject, based in Issaquah, WA, is committed to providing innovative technology and first-rate services to customers and partners. The company can be reached at +1-425-888-8505, or visit www.mcobject.com.

McObject and eXtremeDB are trademarks or registered trademarks of McObject LLC. All other company or product names mentioned herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.