The IoT in 2018: Four reasons to excited, four reasons to be worried

December 19, 2017

Stephen.Evanczuk-December 19, 2017

It's easier than ever to build IoT devices

It seems not so long ago that developers would need to piece together the components of a wireless sensor design, taking an MCU from here, a radio transceiver from there, and combine them with sensors and an AFE to build a wireless sensor device. In 2018, developers have a wide array of wireless MCUs, smart sensors, IoT-ready modules, and dev boards targeting the IoT. Developers can find ultra-low-power wireless MCUs such as Texas Instruments SimpleLink that support multiple wireless technologies (Figure 1). Along with ultra-low-power cores, wireless MCUs typically offer features such as flexible power domains and autonomous peripherals to support battery operation for years.

Figure 1. Multi-standard wireless MCUs such as the Texas Instruments SimpleLink CC26xx integrate processor core and radio transceiver to simplify design of connected products. (Source: Texas Instruments)

Smart sensors have made life easier for developers, who no longer need to worry about the details of the sensor signal chain and all the signal conditioning, sampling, and compensation design elements that go into it. What's particularly exciting is the emergence of multi-sensor devices that not only combine suitable signal chains but also provide the basis for sensor fusion, which merges data from multiple sensors to produce data not available from any single sensor. Smart sensors such as the Bosch Sensortec BMX055 combine MEMS sensors with dedicated signal chains, providing digital results that a host MCU can access through the supported SPI or I2C interfaces (Figure 2). As with most other devices of this type, the BMX055 works with the vendor’s sensor fusion library to provide more complete results such absolute orientation information.

Figure 2. Devices such as the Bosch Sensortec BMX055 largely eliminate the complexity of multi-sensor data acquisition. (Source: Bosch Sensortec)

Along with a few additional components, engineers can create a basic IoT design largely by combining one of these ultra-low-power multi-mode wireless MCUs with an appropriate smart sensor or set of sensors. As much as high-integrated MCUs and sensors speed hardware design, it still takes time to build them into a deliverable platform, and time is a precious commodity in the competitive IoT market. Regardless of which component for wireless sensor design they offer, hardware vendors increasingly provide comprehensive development kits that implement complete IoT system designs including multiple sensors, wireless options, and interfaces (Figure 3). Programmers can use the included software drivers and samples to begin testing their application code, while hardware designers build on the associated reference design. Thanks to a steady stream of comprehensive IoT development kits, IoT application development teams will rarely have to wait to begin software development and cloud integration in 2018.

Figure 3. Development kits such as the STMicroelectronics STM32L4 Discovery kit IoT node offer a rich set of sensors and wireless options. (Source: STMicroelectronics)

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