We relay here-under an interesting article written by R. Colin Johnson on the Internet of Things and published on EEtimes.
Not so long ago, alarmists fretted about running out of Internet Protocol domain space. Then IPv6 opened up plenty of addresses for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the much-hyped Internet of Things. The challenge now becomes making sense of all the sensor data that will stream from our myriad connected devices to the cloud. And the opportunity becomes crafting the applications that address society’s problems today and anticipate the unforeseen needs of tomorrow.
The Internet addressing system conceived in 1977 at the U.S. Department of Defense by Vint Cerf, today chief Internet evangelist at Google, used 32-bit Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to connect people to people, providing more than 4.3 billion unique hosts for trusted user accounts. As the Internet began to be dominated by M2M connections, a revised, 128-bit scheme (IPv6) was adopted to allow for 18 billion billion hosts, accommodating more than 300 trillion trillion trillion secure devices.
Now there is more than enough address space, along with Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), to accommodate the universe of cloud-ready devices that IBM Corp. last year predicted would surpass 1 trillion nodes by 2015.
With its Smarter Planet Initiative, IBM anticipates the endgame for the Internet of Things (IoT). Its researchers envision a global electronic nervous system, with trillions of individual sensors monitoring the status of everything of interest to humans and streaming the resultant exabytes of data to cloud-based cluster supercomputers that extract the ultimate value from the data using analytics software modeled on the human mind.
Picture the Watson AI that last year beat human champions at “Jeopardy,” but on a planetary scale.
“The emergence of the Internet of Things has created such a flood of data that only state-of-the-art information technology can gather, filter, order and interrogate the resulting, massive data set, generically called Big Data”, said Bernie Meyerson, an IBM fellow and vice president of innovation at IBM Research. “The ability to then employ analytics on Big Data in a given field—be that health care, transportation, energy or other Smarter Planet endeavors—promises new insights and routes to optimization benefiting everyone.”
Past technological revolutions have been based on timely innovations; the invention of the steam engine, for example, fueled the Industrial Revolution. But the Internet of Things isn’t based on a breakthrough technology; rather, it leverages micro- and nanoscale versions of established devices.
The engineering hurdles to the IoT center on solving the tough problems in security, standardization, network integration, ultralow-power devices, energy harvesting and, perhaps most important of all, perceived network reliability, so that people will rest assured the planet’s emerging electronic nervous system has their best interests at heart.
IBM setting the pace
IBM is perhaps furthest along in realizing the IoT with existing technologies. For instance, the “mote” sensors it invented to optimize the heat and humidity produced by servers in data centers are now being used to preserve paintings at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Malta, IBM repurposed its wireless radio technology to enable the first national utility grid that has swapped out all of its analog gas meters for smart meters. And Edmonton, Alberta, is using IBM cloud-based analytics to optimize traffic management, leveraging existing infrastructure to track traffic flow in real-time.
As IBM did a decade ago, Hewlett-Packard Co. recently abandoned its PC-centric, one-computer-per-person business model and is reinventing itself as a service provider via its Smarter Planet-like Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) strategy. Both companies are now integrating all levels of the emerging IoT, from the sensors to the communications to the cloud-based analytics, hoping to extract business value from the expected trillion-node volumes that are already driving dollar costs per edge device down to the single digits.
“It’s not about making individual widgets, but rather about constructing a complete sensory system—a vertical solution that includes the sensors, networking, storage, servers, software and analytics,” said Stan Williams, senior fellow at HP Labs. “We don’t intend to sell components, but rather to provide real-time awareness and actionable information that has been distilled from colossal and rapidly evolving data streams.”
The richness of this emerging landscape of applications is creating possibilities beyond the wildest dreams of science fiction. “I wish I was starting out my engineering career today, because the next decade may be the most exciting era in the history of electronics innovation,” said Stephen Pawlowski, Intel senior fellow, general manager of the company’s Architecture Group, and chief technology officer of its Datacenter and Connected Systems Group.
The IoT promises to improve our lives both by solving known problems—such as allowing seniors to “age in place” safely and comfortably in automated, monitored homes—and by creating solutions for requirements we don’t yet realize we have. As Texas Instruments’ Ajith Amerasekera observed, “you don’t need it until you need it”; the marketplace will determine “which of the infinite possibilities in the Internet of Things people will really want.”
Amerasekera, TI’s R&D manager and the director of the company’s Kilby Labs, imagines smart rooms that recognize their occupants; automatically adjust various settings to suit a recognized individual’s preferences for, say lighting, temperature, humidity and entertainment; and even adjust monitoring functions to suit the individual’s personal health requirements.
SOURCE: Vitality Inc.
The common theme in consumer applications will be control, monitoring and diagnosis, according to Mark Hung, research director for wireless at Gartner Inc. (Stamford, Conn.). Developers will look to create a seamless user experience, “such as flashing the living room lights in synchronization with an explosion in a video game,” said Hung; users will come to expect such capabilities “as much as they [now] expect the audio in a game to be synchronized with the video.”
If you want to experience the range of possibilities for the IoT-connected home, book a stay at the Aria Resort and Casino the next time you’re in Las Vegas. More than 80,000 devices are on the hotel’s ZigBee network. Each of the facility’s 4,500 rooms sports more than a dozen IoT edge devices. Smart devices including the door lock, lighting, window shades, thermostat, TV, clock radio and remote control are integrated into “scenes” that can be user-defined with a bedside display. Guests can define a scene by setting the various smart-device parameters to change depending on the time of day, the chosen activity or even their own mood.
“The future is not going to be like ‘The Jetsons,’ ” said Bob LeFort, CEO of Boston-based ZigBee chip provider Ember Corp., who helped define the Aria Resort and Casino’s ZigBee network. “Rather, the Internet of Things will use a set-and-forget model that makes people more efficient, makes their lives safer and just generally makes everything more convenient.”
Most of Ember’s chip customers are using line power, but the company is also researching the use of buttons that generate enough energy to power its chip for a moment when pushed, as well as energy harvesting scenarios using super-capacitors from Infinite Power Solutions Inc. (Littleton, Colo.).
Battery power for devices used by humans is workable, since the users themselves can keep their devices charged. But M2M mobile devices will need to be ultralow-power and thus will lend themselves to battery-free energy harvesting.
“Critical areas that engineers should pay attention to going forward include the performance per watt of electrical circuits,” said Intel’s Pawlowski. “If chips can be made low power enough, then we can develop technologies to harvest energy from the environment to power all these edge devices.”
Another critical piece of the puzzle, said Pawlowski, is specialized security, “not only to keep people’s data safe—ensuring privacy—but also to protect the infrastructure itself, so we can continue to build people’s trust in this new frontier for computing.”
The perceived reliability of the IoT is a focus at Texas Instruments, which claims to have silicon design wins in nearly every IoT device offered today. “Right now, perceived reliability is one of the biggest obstacles to making the Internet of Things pervasive,” said Amerasekera. “People are naturally concerned that if they make their system wireless in, say, building automation, it is not going to work as well as wired solutions. What we need in the next five years are new—or at least improved—protocols that will be super-reliable and ultra-secure, but that use fewer bits than today.”
Along with TI, Qualcomm and Broadcom are probably the most experienced chip makers at integrating RF devices with the silicon chip sets and processors required to realize the Internet of Things.
Qualcomm subdivides the IoT market into a top tier based on cellular modems; a middle tier based on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and HomePlug; and a low end leveraging low-power ZigBee mesh networks. “In terms of the silicon enabling the electronics, you have these three distinct categories, each with a different price point that depends on the bandwidth of the data being communicated,” said Nakul Duggal, vice president of product management at Qualcomm.
Near-field communications might be the sleeper technology that drives volumes, since NFC is already standardized and is poised to become standard equipment on cell phones within five years, said Broadcom co-founder and chief technology officer Henry Samueli. Today, electronic wallets are driving NFC adoption. But many other applications are being conjured, such as smart posters that transfer personalized data about products when a cell phone user scans an NFC tag.
“Wi-Fi is probably the largest-volume chip set we sell today, followed by our Bluetooth [offerings] and chips and that provide cellular connectivity for your mobile phone,” said Samueli. “But near-field communications is an up-and-comer. [It] has not yet reached the maturity of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; but over the next two to three years, I can see NFC growing quite rapidly, along with GPS, because you’ll want to know where these mobile sensors are located as well as being able to perform near-field communications. Both GPS and NFC will become default capabilities for public-safety and other emerging location-based applications.”
The major engineering hurdle to networking the trillion-node IoT is preventing network overload, according to Ian Davidson, product marketing manager of Freescale Semiconductor’s Networking Processor Division.
“Even if each machine-to-machine communication is relatively small, the sheer volume of connected devices could overload networks,” said Davidson. “For instance, at the end of the day all of a city’s buses will be parked in the garage. If they all try to upload their daily logs simultaneously, that could overload the cellular network, potentially leading to outages.”
Freescale advises using tiered network strategies with local gateway nodes to alleviate congestion. Serving all levels between the sensor nodes at the network’s edge and the servers in the cloud requires a range of processor capabilities and radio bands; that requirement could perpetuate the very network heterogeneity that keeps economies of scale from lowering prices drastically.
“We need a range of technologies to meet all price points and all usage categories, from edge to hub to backhaul and up to the cloud,” said Davidson.
New companies are emerging to bridge the gap between the network edge and cloud analytics. Galixsys Networks LLC (Allen, Texas), for one, perceived early on that the Internet of Things would require a new kind of M2M interaction, to which existing networks are ill adapted.
The code used on the Internet today was meant to be read by humans and thus is text-based. Even the Extensible Markup Language (XML) still uses the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), which is slow, wasteful and fraught with security concerns compared with binary code, according to Galixsys.
Preventing network overload and facilitating uncrackable security called for new code variants, the company reasoned. So Galixsys custom-tailored its binary code to real-time control, thereby enabling ultrafast M2M interactions that are small, fast and efficient.
By using fewer bytes with integrated handshaking, secure real-time control can be made less expensive and more conservative of bandwidth-limited network resources.
“What we have done, essentially, is add a layer on top of HTTP [Hypertext Transfer Protocol], creating an environment in which devices are aware of any other devices on the network without human intervention,” said Galixsys founder and chief technology officer Steve Jahnke.
Called Andromeda, the machine-to-machine protocol lowers the barrier to what Jahnke calls “networking everywhere.”
Cellular data connections rule roost
Today, the cornerstones of the mobile segment of the Internet of Things are the cellular modems that transmit data over mobile carrier networks originally designed for voice. Raco Wireless LLC (Cincinnati), for instance, supplies cellular-modem-based solutions that can be managed from Web-based software.
Raco’s Omega Management Suite supplies on-screen dashboards to provide total situational awareness and control over machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions in varied market niches.
“We are seeing exponential growth in the number of M2M applications becoming available—a trend that is accelerating rapidly,” said John Horn, president of Raco Wireless. “Fleet tracking is already here, but other emerging markets, like personal tracking, could be even bigger. For instance, family members can easily monitor their loved ones, allowing their elderly relatives to ‘age in place’ without the need to move to residential assistance centers, thanks to M2M.”
In the automotive market, Raco’s solutions are deployed to track fleets of service vehicles and an increasing number of private car models. According to Juniper Research Ltd. (Basingstoke, U.K.), 92 million cars will offer cellular-based M2M connectivity by integrating drivers’ smartphones into the automotive head unit by 2016. Automakers such as Audi are already using Raco’s services with cellular modems to connect up to eight in-car Wi-Fi devices to the Internet.
Even farmers are getting on board. “Agriculture is being completely transformed by the Internet of Things, enabling work to be performed without human intervention,” said Horn. Poultry farms, for example, are using software for “monitoring everything the chickens do—how much they eat, the temperature in the coops, the air quality—and running analytics on each chicken coop so that farmers can replicate what the coops that get the best results are doing.”
Raco itself does not manufacture the modems, leaving that to companies like Telit Communications SpA (Sgonico, Italy). Telit’s business is booming as an increasing number of IoT application developers build their business models around wireless cellular modems.
“The [scope] of applications emerging seems endless in its ability to improve people’s lives, increasing their safety and sometimes saving their lives by discouraging reckless behavior,” said Michael Ueland, vice president and general manager of Telit Wireless Solutions North America. Ueland cited systems “that monitor teenage drivers and send a text message to parents” when the a teen exceeds a set speed limit”.
“Insurance companies are allowing you to reduce your insurance rate if you allow M2M to report [driving behavior],” Ueland added. “Entire fleets of commercial vehicles [are tracked] using aftermarket devices with our modules inside, like the Garmin, as well as those installed by the vehicle manufacture themselves, such as GM’s OnStar.”
Digital Image System Co. Ltd. (Disys; Deagu, South Korea) uses Telit’s modules for “smart farm” apps. Other markets for cellular-modem-based solutions, according to Telit, include fitness and personal health monitoring, as well as home-alarm systems offered by such companies as Honeywell and Tyco.
R. Colin Johnson