A major challenge implementing the Internet of Things (IoT) is deploying large numbers of sensor and actuator nodes and connecting them in a suitable way. The characteristics of energy-harvesting wireless technology make it the perfect fit to bridge the last mile in an IoT network: small devices working without cables and batteries allowing a simple installation as well as quite easy gradual up-scaling in the number of deployed units. At the same time, the components require minimal service and maintenance effort.
But wireless and self-powered communication of the numerous nodes is just one building block for a wide adoption of an IoT. There are several other factors that need to be considered.
Easy device commissioning
As part of a user-friendly plug-and-play setup, easy device commissioning is essential. Adding and removing components to and from a networked infrastructure by consumers must be painless, quick, and even fun to do. Eventually, this even includes switching the device into different operation modes or selecting functions from a pre-set menu. Device commissioning, as it is called, is part of the installation process.
Using wireless remote commissioning technologies like, for instance, Near Field Communication (NFC) is a possible implementation. This way, the installer can reach the device directly and via tools he is already familiar with — PC, tablets, smartphones. In the future we will see a variety of very attractive graphical user interfaces running on standard IT equipment rather than the need for every sensor node running its own.
This brings us to the claim of an unlimited connectivity. Whether it’s Android, Windows, Java, etc. — the complete world of operating systems needs to be covered so that self-powered sensor nodes can be controlled via all devices, independent of the standard or protocol they are using. This requires standardized interfaces to be defined.
But this is not only the responsibility of the OS vendors. It’s rather up to us, the providers of energy-harvesting wireless technology, to define an open connectivity between self-powered communication and the OS world or different radio and line-powered protocols.
The ability of connecting everything and exchanging data from billions of distributed points demands security. So, from the sensor node to data processing in the cloud, all involved players must be committed to a high data integrity ensuring adequate signaling combined with confidentiality, authenticity, and DoS protection. Nevertheless, the level of security must be adapted to the component’s role in an application, ranging from state-of-the art encryption of a sensor node to the highest security level for the cloud connectivity. These different security levels are inevitable to ensure system functionality while offering adequate protection of data.
Finally, cost is almost always a limiting or, rather, a liberating factor. Traditional approaches put the connectivity of several standards into a gateway. But traditional ways are by no means what will make the IoT happen. Putting the protocol translation into functional devices will lower the costs for the connectivity and increase the users’ acceptance. They don’t need to put additional gateways to the system to make it work but can use a device that combines control functionality in the network, such as an LED relay, for instance, with the translation.
The IoT has several requirements that can all be met by wireless self-powered sensor and actuator nodes, which are accessed via other protocols. All necessary technologies already exist today. The task now is to connect them in a seamless and secure way while leveraging the economies of scale at the same time. This shows clearly that the age of proprietary systems and protocols is over. A highly connected world requires vendors that create open interfaces to their systems and work closely together with each other.
Prior to working for EnOcean, Poppel was European director of embedded processing marketing and applications at Texas Instruments . His responsibilities ranged from microcontrollers and microprocessors to wireless transceivers.
This article first appeared on EE Times’ Planet Analog website.
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