I thought I had posted this Wired article by Vernor Vinge about embedded networks and localizers but I couldn't find it in the archives.
The embedded networks make use of two new technologies. The first is the localizer chip. Think how much mechanical and electronic ingenuity was once needed to determine the position and orientation of objects. There were thousands of clever, awkward tricks for this: corner reflectors, inertial guidance systems, sonar and radar ranging devices. The global positioning system of the 20th century works well where you need only approximate locations (and have satellite access). On the other hand, localizer chips use very-low-power wireless transmissions and simple time-of-flight computations to determine accurate positions of neighbors. This information can propagate across the embedded networks. And so we have a uniform software solution to almost all location-finding problems.
The result is an explosion of applications. Physical objects become as easy to track and control as software structures in a computer program. People used to joke about the "innate orneriness of inanimate objects." Now objects are ornery only when there's an attack or a system failure – and then they can be downright deadly. But most of the time, they cooperate with one another and with us. The dream of home robots is realized. In fact, every time we recall some old futurist dream, we should think how it fits into the world of embedded networks and localizer chips. Some of the old goals are suddenly easy to achieve; others are laughably irrelevant. The recent hoopla about RFID tags reminded me of it. I wondered if RFID tags are a step towards Vinge's localizers and it does look like some people(PDF) are thinking about it that way. A Deepness in the Sky, here we come.