Accelerating the pace of IoT development

Author : Amir Sherman, Director of Engineering Solutions & Embedded Technology, EMEA, at Arrow Electronics

20 September 2018

Credit: Shutterstock

As IoT market development gathers pace, Arrow’s SmartEverything Concept is expanding to offer greater flexibility and faster time to market. This piece discusses how the project is rising to the changing tides in technology.

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Indeed, the pace of development is only accelerating: consider the rapid growth, from about 5 billion IoT connections in 2015, to an estimated 27 billion by 2025. Within that timeframe, more than half of all connected ‘things’ are expected to be in homes, comprising devices like smart appliances, meters, lighting, other home-automation products and digital assistants.

Yet still, such projections could end up proving conservative. Across many sectors, including retail, manufacturing, energy generation, environmental management, logistics and smart cities, there is no shortage of ideas as to how connected smart objects – aided by associated cloud applications – can help to improve intelligence gathering, decision making, and management of resources and activities. McKinsey research suggests the total number of global internet connections could exceed 1 trillion by 2025.

There is another megatrend that will influence whether these figures are realised. The emergence of maker boards and associated open-source software has given creative minds everywhere the tools they need to turn bright ideas into working prototypes – quickly, and without in-depth expertise covering multiple engineering disciplines.

Professional engineering organisations are equally at home with using maker products to shorten development cycles and boost productivity. Maker tools are critical for accelerating the pace of IoT device development, to sustain the phenomenal growth rates that have been projected.

Simplifying IoT device development further

Smart objects must combine a highly energy-efficient smart controller, wireless connectivity, sensing subsystem, and sometimes a suitable UI as well. Each of these areas demands considerable expertise, and small engineering teams or independent designers may not be sufficiently accomplished in each.

Arrow Electronics' SmartEverything concept, combining an Arduino platform with wireless and sensing subsystems and other essentials for practicable IoT devices

A platform that provides ready-to-use solutions to these challenges, enabling developers to concentrate their efforts on application design and quickly get their ideas up and running, can help overcome the barrier. Users of maker boards, such as the Arduino series, are usually familiar with the breadth of the ecosystem, which contains many connectivity and sensing shields, and the easy expandability of the Arduino base computing boards.

Arrow has sought to further streamline that process with its SmartEverything concept, combining an Arduino platform with wireless and sensing subsystems and other essentials for practicable IoT devices, such as a dedicated, secure IC: the Atmel ATSHA204 CryptoAuthentication device, which can validate software, firmware or hardware authenticity, support secure boot, check passwords, exchange session keys and provide secure data storage – all within the resource constraints of a small embedded system like an IoT node.

Arrow has expanded the SmartEverything concept to give developers a wider choice of wireless connectivity and integrated sensing capabilities. Working with partners, including Arduino and major global suppliers of wireless technologies, sensors, processors and software – as well as embedded design specialists Axel, IoTeam and IpTronix – Arrow has expanded the range to provide a choice of four different platforms, to cost effectively address various industry demands. Three of these boards are based on the Arduino Zero board, which contains an Atmel DAMD21 ARM Cortex-M0+ microcontroller.

SmartEverything expands

Fox is the new name for the original SmartEverything board. As the name suggests, it supports SigFox LPWAN connectivity, implemented using a Telit SigFox module. SigFox allows low power, long-range connectivity using unlicensed frequency bands, with no need for owners to manage SIM cards; moreover, it provides flexible radio recognition in various global territories, and location services, that are managed in the cloud.

The Fox board also integrates support for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity, a GPS receiver, and comes with Telit M2M device management software. Also integrated is a complete suite of sensors by STMicroelectronics, including the VL6180X proximity sensor that uses time-of-flight measurement to give greater accuracy than alternative reflectivity-based sensors. An HTS221 umidity/temperature sensor, LPS25H barometric pressure sensor and LIS3DH 3-axis linear accelerometer are also on-board.

New options add LoRa, Wi-Fi, mesh and Thread

Credit: Shutterstock

To address the diversity of connectivity technologies that will be needed to fulfil the IoT’s many roles, new SmartEverything boards now include the Lion and Tiger boards. Lion combines support for BLE and LoRa long-range/low power connectivity over public or private networks, while Tiger supports Wi-Fi, BLE and Thread, which is IPv6- compatible and designed to run over low power IEEE 802.15.4 mesh networks (making it ideal for home connectivity and automation). These boards give developers flexibility in their choice of connectivity to the cloud, and to peer or gateway devices.

Whereas the Fox board is a complete IoT node with built-in sensors, Lion and Tiger are lightweight, low cost boards that allow custom expansion using standard Arduino shields (connected via headers provided). With the recent launch of Bluetooth 5, which standardises Bluetooth mesh capability for the first time, there is interest in opportunities for mesh networking to allow peer-to-peer communication. This brings advantages such as range extension, network fault tolerance and scalability.

SmartEverything Dragonfly supports Linear Technology’s proven DUST mesh-networking protocol, which allows multi-hop networks containing wireless nodes (motes) that can both gather and create data. DUST provides rich features, including support for network manager and Blink mode, which allows ultra-low power roaming nodes and is a strong complement to the board’s built-in GPS receiver.

It also supports Wi-Fi and SigFox connectivity, allowing developers to quickly build gateway devices for linking mesh networks to the cloud – via close range or long-range protocols. Developing with SmartEverything Developing with SmartEverything boards is straightforward using the Atmel Studio environment. Moreover, SmartEverything boards are also supported in Arduino IDE. Ready-to-use libraries for communication modules and sensors, and firmware for exercising these sensors, are also available.

The vast scope and tremendous reach of the IoT is bringing an enormous number of opportunities for developers of all types to create new types of connected objects, ranging from simple, small devices that require expertise in designing within tight constrictions on power, size and cost – to more complex and feature-rich applications.

They can be deployed in almost any environment or market, from domestic or consumer products to devices built to withstand the rigours of industrial environments, remote monitoring, smart cities, medical devices – and more. Arrow’s SmartEverything platform provides richly featured hardware that helps designers jump-start their projects, and the latest additions give extra flexibility to tailor the connectivity and functionality as required.

With specialist wireless, sensing and security knowledge built-in, the boards allow designers to focus on their areas of domain expertise in application design – ultimately enabling faster delivery to market.

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