ARM Tech Con 2013 - Enabling the Internet of Things

Posted by: Roy Sherrill

I recently attended the ARM Tech Con show which is an ARM ecosystems event. Internet of Things (IoT) was the main theme. Simon Segars (ARM CEO) keynote was all about Internet of Things (IoT) and ARM sponsored an Economist magazine report to explore the level at which IoT is gaining traction in the marketplace.  One of the unique things he displayed is a cow health monitor that is ingested by the cow and communicates wirelessly to a neck worn device that relays the info to the internet cloud.   The Internet cloud then provides the farmer and veterinarian's data on health, and nutrition. IoT is a kind of shorthand for capturing "small data" from the edge of the network and sending it to the Cloud where that small piece of data can be aggregated with other data to make intelligent decisions. One example of this would be using a sensor to track the amount of fuel oil in a tank for one's home then combining that with data about the home's usage patterns and local weather forecasts to determine when to schedule a refill that optimizes time and routing for delivery folks while ensuring the homeowner never runs out of fuel. The good news is that there appears to be a very LOW entry cost to build IoT prototypes. Prototyping an IoT sensor and making it operational can be done with readily available low-cost boards that easily connect together: from a MCU board, to a sensor and a wireless Zigbee or Wifi connection. Development tools are available for free from companies like Atmel. Boards can cost in the $10 - $50 range. Low end boards are programmed in C.  Higher end MCU boards can run Java for app development by the xxx,xxx Java programmers out there. Below is a picture of a board and the metal case - the size of an Altoid's tin -- that Freescale gave away.  It usually retails for just $13! It connects to PC for downloading and debugging via USB.

Another item that caught my eye was a small display at the ARM booth that showed power harvesting that did not use any batteries.  A solar cell was hooked up to a capacitor that stored the energy and was connected to an MCU.    

Considering IoT devices that never needed a new battery opens possibilities for even more remote deployments. Daniel Kraft, a doctor, entrepreneur and president of BioniQ, gave a keynote on IoT and medicine.   He showed many products that monitor the body at all times (wearable IoT devices) and report back to your doctor or yourself. One of his quotes that stuck in my head was "OnStar knows more about the health of your modern car than doctors know about most of their patients". He went on to say that medicine is virtually the same today as it was as it was in 1990 when he graduated from med school, but it need not be with all the new devices collecting patient data in real time. ARM has an initiatives call "mbed" to make developing IOT devices easier.  Flashing a new program into the system is a drag-and-drop onto a USB mass storage device (The development board). Freescale is coming out with a wearable computer development kit that includes a MCU and an i.Mx6 on a board the size of a stick of gum. Conclusion: The IoT space, while not new, is still in its infancy. Harnessing the creativity of embedded engineers to build tiny devices and connecting them all together will undoubtedly produce applications and uses that we can't even imagine today. I'm excited by the prospect and the promise.

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