Rebranding the revolution: the future of IoT is embedded
This is because the possibilities the IoT presents are boundless, covering everything from smart fridges, smart cars and smart grids, to wearable devices that monitor your vital statistics.
What’s more, by 2030 it is projected that 100 trillion devices will be connected to the IoT. In short, pundits believe that anything that can be connected, will be connected and this heralds a “new” industrial revolution called The Internet of Things.
But since embedded systems are the key ingredients of an IoT system, wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it embedded-Internet of Things or e-IoT?
Firstly, it’s only by being fitted out with sensors, processors and communication modules, that everyday objects will become “smart”. They record processes in the physical world, connect them to the virtual world of the Internet and so provide the basis for the Internet of Things.
Hence everything belonging to the domain of IoT should possess certain attributes, some of them being: Lower power consumption, powerful processing capabilities, ability to connect to other smart objects. No single component can perform these myriads of functions by themselves. This means that every ‘Thing’ is composed of an embedded system consisting of several components, each one fulfilling one of the attribute needs of the ‘Things’.
This article will make the case for a closer inspection of IoT and the critical role analog and digital components will play in the developing connectivity or relationships between people-people, people-things, and things-things and show how multiple components designed into signal chains and embedded systems are the underpinnings that make IoT a reality.
Defining the Internet of Things:
The Internet of Things is a type of network where information transmitting equipment such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, wireless communications, real-time localization, and sensor networks link any physical objects to the internet to perform information exchange. These physical objects are designed to have identities & virtual personalities, operating in smart spaces, using intelligent interfaces to connect and communicate within the social, environmental and user context.
The term Internet of things was originally coined by Kevin Ashton, back in 1995. But in the years that followed, the IoT languished. As Jeremy Rifkin explains in his book “The Zero Marginal Cost Society”, this could be primarily attributed to two reasons:
· The cost of sensors and actuators embedded in “things” was still relatively expensive. In an 18 month period between 2012 and 2013, however, the cost of RFID chips used to monitor and track things, plummeted by 40%. These tags now cost less than 10 cents. The price of MEMS, including gyroscopes, accelerometers, and pressure sensors, has also dropped by 80 to 90 percent in the past 5 years.
· The internet protocol, IPv4 (uses 32 bits for its internet address) allows only 4.3 billion (2^32) unique addresses on the internet. With most of the IP addresses already gobbled up by the more than 2 billion people now connected to the internet, few addresses remain available to connect millions and eventually trillions of things to the internet.
However with the implementation of the new Internet protocol version, IPv6 (using 128 bits for its internet address) it will help expand the number of available addresses to 340 trillion trillion trillion (2^128) – more than enough to accommodate the enormous number of emerging “Things”.
The core infrastructure and constituent element: ‘The Embedded System’
The core of the IoT operating system is the coming together of the Sensing, Energy, Computing, Communications and Software in a cohesive operating platform. If each remains siloed from the others, it will be impossible to erect the IoT and pursue the vision of a smart society and sustainable world.
Each of these five constituents enables the others. Without sensing there is nothing we can measure. Without energy, we cannot generate information or power transport. Without computing capabilities we cannot analyze or do any deductions on the generated data.
Without communications, we cannot engage in interconnectivity. Without the software support there will be no way to connect things to each other. This in literal terms defines the signal chain for IoT applications, .i.e. “Sense-Compute-Communicate”, which then needs to be integrated/embedded smartly together.
At Analog Devices, we are seeing the emergence of game-changing technologies. These include the sensor and sensor node explosion and the associated trend towards solutions that ensure lower energy consumption.
Smart objects use sensors to capture their environment, measuring parameters such as temperature, motion or position. Companies are installing sensors all along the commercial corridor to monitor and track the flow of goods.
Sensors measure the vibrations and material conditions in buildings, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure to access the structural health of the built environment and determine when to make needed repairs. The types of sensing nodes needed for IoT vary widely, depending upon the applications involved. MEMS sensors combine many functions in a single housing just a few millimeters in size, making them ideal for Internet of Things applications.
A further key trend is the printing of sensor elements directly onto the surfaces of smart objects based on combinations of different functional materials. These printed electronic components permit the production of low cost, more robust sensors.
Low power wireless is set to play a significant role in providing connectivity for IoT driven applications. As a result, Embedded Developers and engineers will increasingly be tasked with adding wireless to their embedded products.
One possible solution – low power sub-GHz wireless. Sub-GHz is a good choice over competing technologies as it offers longer communication range and potentially increased robustness. Typical sub-GHz radio ICs allow multi-band, multi-mode operation across a wide range of data rates and channel bandwidths.
They employ flexible packet management features and MAC layer support, in order to meet the requirements of the proprietary based protocols that are so common in the sub-GHz ISM bands. For the RF Design Engineer, the flexibility of a sub-GHz radio IC can be of great value in developing a product. However for the Embedded Engineer tasked with utilizing sub-GHz wireless in an application, getting started with a sub-GHz radio IC can be a very daunting challenge.
The Internet of Things demands extremely cost-effective, power-saving yet powerful processors. The modern-day semiconductor industry offers microprocessors featuring low-power circuit design which consume just a few micro-amperes per megahertz of computing power. MCU’s are the programmable brains of the IoT.
Processors are now expected to do a lot more controlling, sensing, and interfacing while consuming very little power and area. In addition, the ability to easily configure the processor by selecting, minimizing, adjusting, or reducing features to tailor its performance for specific application requirements is essential.
Low power requirement is a key feature of all the components (sensors, MCU, transceivers) forming a part of the Internet of Things signal chain. According to Gartner’s report (12 December, 2013), there will be 26 billion devices connected to each other and to the internet by 2020.
Combined, these devices will have a power requirement which is non-deliverable by conventional energy generation methods. Regular batteries are too maintenance-intensive for most applications on the Internet of Things, given that they have to be replaced on a regular basis.
Energy Harvesting techniques are being considered as a sustainable solution, wherein the required power is generated by the ambient energy sources-light, movement, heat etc. In a typical IoT smart sensor application, the wireless sensor node sits idle for long periods of activity for sensor data acquisition and wireless transmission.
As a result, power consumption for the underlying wireless sensor system can exhibit periodic peaks of power demand separated by extended periods of quiescent operation. This in turn mandates the use of energy-storage devices such as super capacitors and thin film batteries to meet peak power requirements.
In conclusion the internet has, is and will continue to revolutionize the social and economic world in its own good and bad ways. Now, with the addition of Things to this web the requirement for more and more semiconductor content is inevitable.
If the Industry is to succeed in churning out billions and trillions of smart devices, ensuring rapid development and production of embedded systems for IoT applications is a key critical element, hence rightfully making it the embedded-Internet of Things.
About the Author:
Vidushi Kshatri works as an Application Engineer at Analog Devices – www.analog.com. She comes with a background in Electronics and Communications engineering and takes care of emerging technologies like IoT, Chemical Analysis & Environmental Monitoring and Energy Harvesting.
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