IoT: the sum of all technology opportunities

IoT: the sum of all technology opportunities
by Don Dingee on 02-26-2014 at 5:00 pm

There was a time not that long ago, before smartphones arrived on the scene, where Mentor Embedded Nucleus RTOS was dominant in non-Nokia feature phones – Mentor is part of the “Billion Unit Mobile Club”. Since then, Mentor has been searching to recreate that type of success, and like so many other software firms, they are now aiming Nucleus at the Internet of Things.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the IoT concept: intelligent devices are connected, sometimes with people and a mobile app in the loop, often without, and providing a degree of autonomous decision-making backed by data storage and analysis capability from the cloud. How the idea plays out in the first wave of real-world application segments – smart grid, healthcare and fitness, home automation, and connected cars to name a few – is the subject of a lot of discussion between implementers and vendors.

In one of those conversations, Mentor Embedded recently hosted a Google+ Hangout on Air sharing some introductory ideas on the IoT. Andrew Caples, senior product marketing manager for Nucleus RTOS, sounded some common themes in his presentation.

Whatever the Internet of Things is, it is going to be big.

Caples and most industry observers I’ve seen are now placing the IoT potential well beyond the initial 50 billion device projection, which now appearsalmost pedestrian. Verily, it could be greater than the sum of all technology opportunities before it – radio, TV, phones, PCs, mobile – combined.

For perhaps the first time, the total available market (TAM) for IoT devices isn’t constrained by the number of businesses, households, people, or even IPv6 addresses: in scientific notation, somewhere north of 10[SUP]38[/SUP]possibilities. At least in theory, IoT device counts could stack up into the trillions if the vision is realized.

There is a tremendous amount of data that needs to be assimilated, correlated, and displayed in meaningful ways.

Simply turning lights on and off in a home as Colin Walls demonstrated in his opening captures a very basic idea of how to use IoT magic. The real potential lies in connecting many far-flung devices, monitored by services poring over data looking for trends and exceptions. That process would bore most humans to tears, but the power of big data analytics in the cloud can bring human attention exactly to the point in space and time it is needed – like on a surgically-repaired knee with sensors.

The long range problem Caples and many others see: zero configuration networking. Devices will need to connect to networks, discover services, form collaborative clusters, and provide information securely to the cloud without a lot of hand-holding from users. That is absolute heresy to most IT organizations, but it is central to making the IoT work as envisioned – especially with consumers in the equation.

If that were easy, anyone would do it, and I think Mentor would admit we have a ways to go – both in standards and implementations. We are the early stages of connecting devices and discovering IoT services, and without an ample supply of Unobtainium, we have to proceed with technology we have. For many IoT types, that currently leads straight in the direction of Bluetooth Low Energy: wireless enabling ultra-low power devices, able to pair with almost any garden-variety smartphone or tablet.

The balance of the Hangout introduces Nano Power Communications and their small-footprint BLE stack running on top of Nucleus RTOS. A question I get a lot: why not just grab an open source Bluetooth stack? The answer lies in optimization, support for multiple microcontrollers and operating systems, and support for multiple Bluetooth profiles. One of the more popular open source implementations handles the TI MSP430, but not much else, and offers a few more common profiles. The Nano Power team briefly explains how they have integrated their broader BLE capability with Nucleus RTOS and its support on multiple architectures, saving developers valuable integration time and effort.

The entire event, including an extended Q&A session with the Mentor and Nano Power teams, is available via registration on the Mentor Embedded site:

Internet of Things (IoT) Connectivity for Embedded Devices

Bluetooth is by no means the only connectivity option for IoT devices, but with ubiquity in mobile phones and tablets and later model automobiles, the combination of functionality and relative ease of pairing plus consumer familiarity makes it a leading contender. I’m hoping the Mentor team builds on their IoT efforts in future events like this, exploring some of the other middleware and applications in more detail – and how we might get to the zero configuration vision.

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