Requirements for creating a ‘Community of Devices’A 'community of devices' is a segment of the broader Internet of Things (IoT), in which sensor-enabled, actuator, and controller devices work cooperatively and directly with each other to achieve a larger goal, such as the comfort or security of a large building.
A community of devices can be IP-enabled, but it doesn’t require Internet connectivity. It operates primarily as an autonomous and resilient peer-to-peer control network, even when there is no Internet connectivity.
Use cases for a community of devices might include building automation, municipal street lighting systems, or industrial controls. More broadly, these peer-to-peer control networks are designed for safety, environmental health/comfort, and convenience applications that do not require complex Internet-based applications to perform useful tasks automatically.
What’s needed to create a community of devices
The following are necessary technologies to enable the implementation of communities of devices:
IP to the end point. IP to the gateway or supervisory controller is not enough. Communities of devices require IP all the way to the smallest, lowest-powered devices, including sensors and actuators. Specifically, IPv6 needs to be extended to the field bus and device I/O level.
Next-generation SOC (IP chip). Currently available silicon makes it cost-prohibitive to IP-enable very low-cost devices. Next-generation system-on-chip (SOC) technology will provide the makers of controllers, sensors, actuators, and similar devices with everything needed to support peer-to-peer communities of devices, including a secure IP stack, a range of connectivity options (both wired and wireless), enough processing horsepower with low power consumption to run sufficient application code, and software services specifically aimed at peer-to-peer communities of devices.
Security. A secure IP stack will be embedded directly into the IP chips, leveraging Internet-proven security mechanisms that are transparent to device developers.
Services layer. IP chips will include software services such as confirmed multicasting of messages; duplicate packet detection; priority messaging; multiple, simultaneous outgoing messages; and standard data exchange.
Gateway functionality migrated into IP chips. Today’s accepted approach for interconnecting networks is through gateways that map functionality between different protocols. For communities of devices, gateway functionality will be implemented in the device itself, through the IP chip. In this way, at the push of a single device could present itself as an IP device, a LonWorks-over-IP device, a BACnet-over-IP device, or a Control Protocol X-over-IP device.
Media agnosticism. Communities of devices must be able to run over both wired and wireless networks. While much of the IoT focus is on RF (e.g., Zigbee), many locations ideal for communities of devices have poor wireless reception (e.g., deep inside buildings, underground, in natural or urban canyons) and will continue to rely on wired networks.
Control protocols, such as LonWorks, have made use of the concept of communities of devices with peer-to-peer networking for years, but generally without IP at the device level. In the future, device stack software will offer community services, as well as an IP stack with a choice of physical media.
Supporting technologies will help pave the way for communities of devices to be established and proliferate. For instance, the Interoperable Self-Installation (ISI) technology, for which Echelon recently received a patent, dramatically simplifies the installation, configuration, and management tasks associated with creating communities of devices on a control network.
Like the IoT, the community of devices concept is evolving. Details are still being defined, but the rapid pace of IoT development and adoption will spill over into efforts toward communities of devices.
Communities of devices will never be as numerous or as high-profile as the broader IoT movement, but they will perform important functions wherever peer-to-peer automation is the most sensible, efficient, and cost-effective approach.
In future articles we will explore more deeply the nuts and bolts of creating communities of devices.
Varun Nagaraj is Senior Vice President, General Manager, Internet of Things, at Echelon Corp. in San Jose, Calif. He has more than 20 years of high-tech product planning and strategy experience. He holds a B.S.E.E. from IIT Bombay, an M.S. in Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University, and an M.B.A. from Boston University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.