8 views of Intel’s IoT efforts

8 views of Intel’s IoT efforts

Technology News |
In its efforts to carve out a slice of the Internet of Things, Intel announced its first processor in years that is not compatible with its x86 architecture. Separately, a small company in Sweden shared its story of working on another Intel IoT chip.
By eeNews Europe

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The two inputs were among several glimpses into the PC giant’s efforts at its second annual event here focused on the Internet of Things.

Intel offered Yanzi, a five-year-old building automation company outside Stockholm, a chance to work with it on the development of Atlas Peak, the code name for the Quark SE SoC announced Tuesday (Nov. 3). The company has 20 deployments in Sweden and was using Intel’s first Quark processor (the X1000) in its access points and Intel Xeon chips in its gateways.

Yanzi jumped at the chance, liking Intel’s idea of embedding into the chip a pattern-matching block for analytics processing at the edge. Along the way Yanzi engineers spent a month this summer porting a 6LoWPAN stack to Intel’s chip, and Intel engineers helped design a prototype board for Yanzi’s next motion-sensor node.

"A pattern-matching engine can identify more accurately analog events such as whether motion is from left-to-right or right-to-left or if someone is standing or sitting – it’s practical," said Lars Ramfelt, chief technology officer for Yanzi.

Lars Ramfelt, CTO of Yanzi, shows a motion sensor it developed as part of work with Intel on its new Atlas Peak version of Quark.

Lars Ramfelt, CTO of Yanzi, shows a motion sensor it developed as part of work with Intel on its new Atlas Peak version of Quark.

The company uses a range of proprietary and ARM-based microcontrollers from Silicon Labs, STMicroelectronics and others in its existing sensor nodes. "We haven’t found anyone else with integrated pattern matching," Ramfelt said, noting not all devices need the capability.

The Quark SE is the chip used on Intel’s previously announced Curie module. Currently, it is only available as a module because the chip is too small to cost-effectively mount to a board. Intel will re-package the chip into a 144-pin BGA for volume production next year.

For its part, Yanzi will use the SE chip in some of its sensor nodes next year when it plans to release products for the first time in the U.S. Ramfelt would like to see future Quark chips build in support for the 802.15.4 and low-power Wi-Fi networks Yanzi uses.

Intel does plan to have integrated connectivity in next-gen Quark chips, but Dipti Vichini, a Texas Instruments product manager who became head of Intel’s Quark group six months ago declined to say which networks they will support.

Yanzi also plans to add support for the Thread transport protocol to its products because "in the future there will be a lot of Thread devices we can interoperate with," Ramfelt said.

The Yanzi CTO is less concerned with the current fragmented array of application level protocols for IoT.

"The IPv6 networking layer is important for us, but on top of that there are multiple application stacks — for example IP cameras all have their own app stack," he said. "Application-layer standardization is great, but it’s the last step, and it’s not that critical at this stage, so going from a few hundred of them to a handful over the next few years is a big win for us," he added.

One protocol Yanzi has already rejected is AllJoyn from the AllSeen Alliance. "It’s a peer-to-peer approach, and our products are all going through our cloud service," he said.


The Quark SE is currently only available as a module, shown here on the Yanzi's motion-sensor board, but will be in a BGA package next year.

The Quark SE is currently only available as a module, shown here on the Yanzi motion-sensor board, but will be in a BGA package next year.

At the event Intel rolled out two microcontroller-class chips for IoT. The D2000 is essentially a slimmed down version of the SE, stripping out the pattern-matching block and a DSP-based sensor hub. Both chips use a 32-bit Pentium-class core running at 32 MHz.

The D2000 supports just 40 Kbytes flash and 8KB RAM compared to 384KB flash and 80KB RAM on the SE. The D1000 also removes USB 1.1 support in the SE and provides fewer GPIO and I2C interfaces.

The D1000 is more interesting, although long term may prove less significant for Intel. It is the company’s first non-x86 chip since former CEO Paul Otellini sold off Intel’s StrongARM core and set a course focused solely on the Intel architecture. An Intel datasheet simply describes the D1000 core as a "33 MHz 32-bit Harvard architecture tailored for MCUs."

Intel’s Vichini described it as a proprietary, internally designed core developed with feedback from unnamed customers and aimed at the low end of the microcontroller line. It is "a point product," she said because unlike other members of the Quark family, the company does not plan any follow on for it.

All three chips – the SE, D2000 and D1000 – are merely spins of the original synthesized Pentium-class core Intel announced as Quark in 2013, said Linley Gwennap, principal of The Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.). The market watcher reported at that time Quark was one-fifth the size and one-tenth the power of Intel’s Atom core as originally demonstrated in a 32nm device. Presumably, even the D1000 is the same basic design stripped so bare it hits a lower cost point but no longer runs a full x86 ISA.

In that light, the event had no hardware news, "but it showed that Intel is offering a broad range of IoT solutions from the client to the cloud," Gwennap said pointing mainly to software Intel’s Wind River division announced.

The Quark D1000 is an MCU that trades off x86 compatibility for an ultra low power and price.

The Quark D1000 is an MCU that trades off x86 compatibility for an ultra low power and price.

Rocket, a real-time OS for microcontrollers, was one of the more interesting new software announcements. It can fit into 4-8 Kbytes of memory and still support latency as low as Wind River’s flagship VxWorks although it lacks its extensive features. Wind River also announced a microcontroller-class Linux variant called Pulsar, available free as part of the Yocto project.

Separately Intel offered a new big-data analytics package as free open source code. Intel engineers created the Trusted Analytics Platform (TAP) in just two weeks, re-packaging exiting open source components, yet it has attracted engagement from as many as 68 companies including Accenture, Amazon and Cloudera, said Diane Bryant, general manager of Intel’s data center group.

Bryant was frank about the challenges companies face in big data analytics, something TAP is aimed to ease. It’s hard to find data scientists, and integrate them into existing IT departments, she said. In addition 70% of the investment in analytics comes in the drudgery of setting and managing data standards and filters before models can be created and refined to deliver useful predictions, she added.

Representatives of Honeywell were on hand to talk about their work using TAP and Quark devices to track movements of firefighters and communicate with them during an emergency. So far, the program is a prototype that could take two years to turn into a product if Honeywell gets a thumbs up from its customers.

Such examples showed Intel "still doesn’t have any big design wins [in IoT], but they are working with many players and hoping that volume will eventually add up," said analyst Gwennap. "Even if they don’t win the client, they still win the cloud, where they can deliver IoT services," he added.


 

Krzanich talked about IoT customers in agriculture, health and retail.

Krzanich talked about IoT customers in agriculture, health and retail.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich (above) kicked off the event followed by short talks from executives who manage Intel’s software, IoT, data center, R&D and security groups in a sign of the strategic weight Intel gives the emerging sector.

Krzanich called IoT "a third wave of computing…The real future will be drivien by machine data going to the cloud that will be much larger than human traffic there today," he said.

Doug Davis, head of Intel’s IoT group, put a few numbers and a new acronym on the road map for IoT-friendly versions of cellular (below). The LTE-M and Narrowband-IoT versions of cellular expected in LTE Release 13 will support data rates of 160 Kbits/second up to a megabit. A so-called EC-GSM spec in Release 12 will support up to a Mbit/s and sounds similar to the timeframe and target for LTE Category 0 which was recently cancelled.

Doug Davis' showed an interesting slide on the cellular IoT road map.

Doug Davis’ showed an interesting slide on the cellular IoT road map.


A Honeywell product manager in full firefighter gear showed the prototype Quark device worn as a smartwatch.

A Honeywell product manager in full firefighter gear showed the prototype Quark device worn as a smartwatch.

A few new prototype wearables were on display at the event along with ones Intel announced previously.

Honeywell is using Quark-based location and communications devices in form factors of smartwatches (above) and smartphones (not shown) as part of its market test for first responders. Separately, a startup showed a prototype GPS tracker for children now being redesigned to use Quark.

The MICA (My Intelligent Communications Accessory, below) co-developed with Opening Ceremony is a bracelet with a small display hidden on its back side. The device links to cellular and Bluetooth networks and has its own SIM card to deliver notifications and short canned responses. It costs $450 with a data plan.

The Fossil smartwatch (bottom) is the result of another of several co-development deals Intel has forged with fashion companies. Intel also acquired smartwatch designer basis and sports glass maker Recon.

MICA provides notifications for women who don't want to carry a smartphone.

MICA provides notifications for women who don’t want to carry a smartphone.

Fossil is one of a handful of Intel's fashion partners in wearables.

Fossil is one of a handful of Intel’s fashion partners in wearables.

 

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