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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

VCs 'discover' the embedded market as edge computing

By Nick Flaherty

The recent article on edge computing by US venture capital fund manager Peter Levine made for interesting reading, and a wry smile.

Edge computing, like Cisco's idea of 'fog' computing, means putting more processing power at the edge of the cloud, which helps to reduce the power consumption of the data centre. This is a message that Chris Rowen, CEO of Tensilica and now a key strategist at Cadence Design Systems, has been highlighting for a while now, and brings more performance (and power requirements) into the embedded market.

This is great news for embedded designers. While the focus for investment in recent years has been apps and software containers on data centre hardware, the move to edge computing will need a much broader base of software running on higher performance embedded systems. That hardware is becoming available with quad and octo-core processors based around the ARM and MIPS architectures - the investment will be in the software, from machine vision to artificial intelligence.
This will drive some key changes that we are already starting to see. Google's move to combine its Brillo operating system with the Android infrastructure for software development and app discovery and the Weave cloud links is part of this move. The challenge is providing the right level of performance - including more complex databases - in embedded devices. The first step will be more computer vision, requiring more dedicated processing blocks in the embedded processors, and much more focus on the skills of the embedded designer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Google merges Brillo, Weave and Android to create an operating system for the Internet of Things

By Nick Flaherty

An important new player has emerged into the embedded world of the Internet of Things. After a few years on the back-burner, Google has taken its Brillo  operating system and combined it with the Weave communications protocol and Android's app infrastructure to make it quicker and easier to develop software for the IoT.

"We're releasing a Developer Preview of Android Things, a comprehensive way to build IoT products with the power of Android,"said Wayne Piekarski, Developer Advocate for IoT. 

"Now any Android developer can quickly build a smart device using Android APIs and Google services, while staying highly secure with updates direct from Google," he said. "We incorporated the feedback from Project Brillo to include familiar tools such as Android Studio, the Android Software Development Kit (SDK), Google Play Services, and Google Cloud Platform. And in the coming months, we will provide Developer Preview updates to bring you the infrastructure for securely pushing regular OS patches, security fixes, and your own updates, as well as built-in Weave connectivity and more."
There are several turnkey hardware solutions available already such as Intel's Edison, NXP's Pico board and the Raspberry Pi 3. These can easily scale to large production runs with custom designs, while continuing to use the same Board Support Package (BSP) from Google.

Google has also updated the Weave platform to make it easier for all types of devices to connect to the cloud and interact with services like the Google Assistant. Device makers like Philips Hue and Samsung SmartThings already use Weave, and several others like Belkin WeMo, LiFX, Honeywell, Wink, TP-Link, and First Alert are implementing it. Weave provides all the cloud infrastructure, so that developers can focus on building their products without investing in cloud services. 

Weave also includes a Device SDK for supported microcontrollers and a management console and this currently supports schemas for light bulbs, smart plugs and switches, and thermostats. In the coming months Google will be adding support for additional device types, custom schemas/traits, and a mobile application API for Android and iOS. 

This is a good compromise between the flexibility of the Android platform, based on Java, and the tight latency and storage requirements of embedded designs. The Android Services will help with discovery and software resources to make development faster and easier, while the Weve connectivity to the cloud will greatly simplify these applications.

This is just the beginning of the IoT ecosystem Google wants to build. It is is also working towards merging Weave and Nest Weave to enable all classes of devices to connect with each other in a secure and reliable way. To get started, check out Google's IoT developer site, or go directly to the Android Things, Weave, and Google Cloud Platform sites for documentation and code samples. Google's IoT Developers Community on Google+ also has the latest updates and share and discuss ideas with other developers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

McLaren self-powers the Internet of Things with Sharp and Ilika

McLaren Applied Technologies and Sharp Laboratories of Europe are working with UK battery maker Ilika to develop an autonomous energy harvesting power source for the Internet of Things (IoT).

A £500,000 grant from Innovate UK will focus on an energy harvesting wireless sensing platform with applications in industries that could include motorsport and automotive along with potentially healthcare and wearables.

Over £320,000 of the Innovate UK grant will be provided to Ilika to lead a two-year project which will see Ilika’s Stereax solid-state battery technology integrated with Sharp’s photovoltaic (PV) technology to provide a power source for McLaren Applied Technologies’ wireless sensing platform.

“We are delighted McLaren Applied Technologies is part of a collaboration to create a next generation autonomous energy harvesting power source. Thanks to funding from Innovate UK, we will be developing sensors for the “Internet of Things” to improve system performance in a wide range of applications across the technology spectrum,” said Dick Glover, Chief Technology Officer at McLaren Applied Technologies, a subsidiary of the racing car developer.

The objective is to develop robust, low maintenance sensor nodes for demanding environments. The power source must be robust, operate at up to 100 °C and be maintenance-free. The target footprint must be small with attractive aesthetics for easy integration into the sensor and its operating environment. It should also have dimensions comparable to the sensor and other electronic elements, but deliver sufficient power to fully operate the sensor.

"Ilika’s Stereax technology is ideal for combining with energy harvesting technologies," said Graeme Purdy, CEO of Ilika. "Solid-state batteries are known for their low leakage currents and their ability to retain their performance over thousands of cycles. These properties make Stereax batteries the ideal technology to integrate with Sharp’s high efficiency PV panels. We expect this development programme to create significant commercial opportunities across multiple sectors."

McLaren self-powers the Internet of Things with Sharp and Ilika | EETE Power Management:
By Nick Flaherty