In this Product How-To article , Kevin Rhoads of Kontron explains the benefits of using the company’s M2M Smart Services Developer Kit to accelerate the creation of wireless smart services applications and provide a pre-validated platform for M2M software.
As connected devices proliferate, benefits of shared information present new opportunities for business, services and ongoing revenue. Machine-to-machine (M2M), or the concept of exchanging information without human intervention, is born of this premise and stands ready to capitalize on dramatic growth across any number of market segments.
Connected consumers, e-health, telematics and smart grid appliances present highly diverse examples of M2M’s promise – demonstrating opportunities for services, delivery of content, system optimization and a range of new possibilities based on ongoing connectivity and data sharing.
What each of these arenas has in common is the need to connect devices, and efficiently gather, share and analyze data that can be used remotely. In order to be competitive and deliver sophisticated systems in this arena, technologies, standards and platforms must be deciphered quickly – not an easy feat considering the diversity of devices, applications and means of connectivity. Application-ready platforms are answering the challenge, driving market progress by providing a speedy path to revenue-based smart services enabled by M2M protocols.
The Promise of M2M
M2M’s main principle is that ‘if it can be connected, it will be connected.’ And its overall significance lies in the transparent control of human and machine interactions, bringing greater value and new business opportunities to a variety of industries.
Billions of devices deployed as edge node and gateway devices will collect and send data non-stop, in turn increasing revenue opportunity resulting from always-on connectivity. Smart services are the intelligent applications that act and react to the collected data – and they are the key to effectively using cloud computing to communicate and aggregate data in meaningful ways.
Demand for smart services is being steadily driven by users’ higher expectations from their intelligent devices; this includes increased dependency on mobile networks, pervasive Internet and usage trends such as expanding use of video in all manner of embedded environments.
Devices will become more intelligent, seamlessly integrating smart services that provide the autonomous device management required for efficient, cost-effective and highly intelligent M2M deployments. Sparing designers from the complexities of wireless connected computer technology is essential to this process.
Traditional embedded challenges such as electrical design and layout, security, development cost and time-to-market apply in M2M arenas – but they are further complicated by extensive wired and wireless protocols and connectivity requirements. Device functionality and usage models generally fall into three categories:
* Indirect nodes offer indirect interface to the cloud
* Direct nodes offer direct interface to the cloud
* Gateways offer direct interface to the cloud and indirect nodes
Where Internet protocols are based on standardized hardware and software, wireless protocols can vary dramatically and may include LAN, WAN and PAN technologies such as WiFi/WiMax, 3G/4G, Bluetooth, ZigBee and many others. Sophisticated connectivity demands fine tuning that covers a multitude of design, processing and communication factors. The design ideal for smart services developers is a platform that allows these complex systems to be semi-customized in development, without the need to master complex wireless technologies. Standards-based, application-ready platforms respond by streamlining development, offering ready support for 90 percent of known software options.
The Fast Track to M2M
Reducing development time and thus time-to-market typically means that standards-based solutions are essential. This calls for connected devices to be reinvented in a sense, using simple, extensible, flexible technologies that speed up deployment and time-to-revenue.
Reference designs can address these challenges by providing an intelligent M2M device as well as building blocks that can quickly enable an M2M data path. It’s this path that moves information from collection to cloud to aggregation to decision-making.
Using the Kontron M2M Smart Services Developer Kit (Figure 1 below ), for example, designers have valuable development resource with plug and play capabilities that speed development and simplify testing of an application’s connectivity and performance.
The kit is designed to accelerate the creation of smart services applications and provides a pre-validated platform for M2M software. It also serves as the communication gateway for sending the information used for real-time business applications.
Standardized platforms such the Kontron M2M Smart Services Developer Kit provide support for a range of wireless connections, giving designers multiple opportunities for generating, aggregating and transmitting machine-to-machine data to the cloud.
Figure 1. In Kontron’s Linux/Atom-based M2M Smart Services Developer kit, a modular architecture is used to give designers a plug and play modular hardware and software development environment by which to build a range of applications using Linux and middleware from Eurotech and ILST.
The kit uses the Kontron COM Express-compatible Computer-on-Module (COM) nanoETXexpress-TT powered by an Intel Atom processor and includes a M2M System Carrier Board and an AV board to support headed configuration use.
This inherently modular approach simplifies manufacturing and support processes – streamlining build management with a single COM Express module versus hundreds of parts generally associated with a CPU. COMs enjoy broad industry support and designers can evaluate and select modules from a wide range of vendors.
Offering low power and small form factor, COMs are optimal for M2M deployments common to space-constrained environments such as ceilings, closets or mounted inside existing equipment or machinery.
In turn, smart services developers are freed from hardware concerns and can focus on what they do best – creating functionality, and addressing security and privacy of information as a central feature to M2M solutions.
Their application may reside on simple SIM card, communicating with the M2M device and effectively moving information along its complex path. M2M is now being defined by these sophisticated applications which interpret and apply information, enabling tangible business benefit by acting on real-time data.
How M2M Works
Gathering information from embedded sensors is a longstanding concept, however sharing that information dynamically is an evolving front today. Using both wired and wireless connections, M2M enables automated communication to achieve a particular service-related action – streamlining processing of information as compared to a simple networked approach.
Instead of relaying data into a network hub for collection and analysis, intelligent devices transmit information to and from individual devices. This more direct connection not only fuels real-time actions, but also enables reductions in power, time and associated costs. The resulting fast and seamless service is what is required to meet rigorous end-user expectations – and create an ideal framework for fee-based services offered through intelligent devices.
Once a sensor captures an event, for example a change in temperature or a reduction in parts required on an industrial manufacturing line, the information is relayed into a network of devices. The network of devices may be wired, wireless or a combination of the two, and accepts the data based on its application-specific design. The application creates value with the information by applying it in a way which results in action; the temperature is managed, or the materials are replenished on the manufacturing line.
An example of an M2M implementation integrates the Kontron M2M Smart Services Developer Kit in a remote home application, creating an M2M access point in the home. This type of access point could be situated in almost any remote location, such as an oil platform, along a pipeline or in another geographically remote location with access to 3G connectivity.
The access point would accept data from any number of sensors, operate on that information and uplink it to the cloud for smart decisions made on behalf of the user.
In the home application example, the access point incorporates an Intel Atom processor with WindRiver Linux 4 and an Ericsson 3G modem. 3G WWAN (wireless wide area network) is either pre-installed or easily enabled by dropping in a pre-certified PCI Express 3G/4G module for further broadband connectivity flexibility.
The access point (Figure 2, below ) connects with WiFi inside the home and is 802.11a/b/g/n WLAN (wireless local area network) and 802.15.4 WPAN (wireless personal area network) capable, allowing low power radio for stacks such as ZigBee or ZWave.
Figure 2. The kit includes an integrated 802.15.4 WPAN transceiver that supports a wide range of protocols and network topologies, such as 6LoPAN, Wireless HART, ZigBee and others, using a unique 802.15.4 MAC layer interface.
The resident can connect to the home via web browser on PC, tablet or smartphone. Home lights can be turned on and off remotely, or entrance can be granted to an individual who’s been locked out. Intrusion detection protocols can be programmed to run when the front door is opened without a key; lights can turn on, video can begin recording the intruder and the homeowner can be notified via text message.
Temperature can be modified in advance of arriving home, and the thermostat can automatically communicate with the power company to ensure reduced usage and billing. This same type of smart grid power management can scale to provide benefits to multi-national companies, enabling reduced carbon footprints through precision diagnosis and management of power usage.
In a fleet management application, a similar level of connectivity can integrate with satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) enabling real-time information such as vehicle location, fuel efficiency and driving speed.
An M2M device attached to a vending machine can communicate with the brain of the machine via wired or wireless connection. The device would be bolted directly to the inside, back or top of the vending machine where no external factor could impact its performance.
When the stock of a particular item runs low, the devices communicate and the M2M connection enables the data to be uploaded to the snack manufacturer or the vending management company advising replenishment. For large vending firms with machines spread across broad geographic locations, this streamlined and accurate communication eliminates the requirement of ‘checking on machines’ and increases efficiency by only executing maintenance or replenishment as needed.
M2M has significant potential in manufacturing and industrial automation settings. Multiple devices can be placed along an assembly line, indicating when additional stock or manufacturing supplies are required at a certain point in the line.
One device may keep track of finished goods coming off the line, and another may document the number of bolts on hand at assembly stop #43. The line produces 100 products per day, and each requires five bolts so an immediate replenishment of 500 bolts is required.
The essential factor in all these applications is one machine communicating directly with another; human intervention is removed from the equation, minimizing error and ensuring highly effective, around the clock, real-time data gathering and performance.
Fueling M2M Development
With the introduction of higher wireless bandwidths and the advent of 4G LTE-based wireless networks, carriers worldwide see significant potential for M2M enterprise and consumer applications and services.
With respect to their wireless and telco cloud computing network infrastructures, manufacturers such as Kontron are already well positioned with telecom and network equipment vendors in supplying the market with standardized COTS open communication platforms (OCP).
Middleware and services partners are working together to provide a complete turnkey M2M solution which includes cellular connectivity and existing relationships with the world’s largest carriers. With no coding required, implementations can be configured using a graphical design tool with point and click, drag and drop interfaces.
This simple, yet semi-customized approach enables applications to get to field trial and volume production quickly. These smart services deployment kits also include middleware and services partners to assist designers who do want to develop their own code and integrate a complete solution.
Device APIs and Cloud Application APIs are provided to develop agent code and application connectivity. Toolkits are often provided to integrate and troubleshoot connectivity with cellular modems.
Moving Forward with M2M
While most consumers may not consider a vending machine, thermostat or vehicle navigation system a connected device – those devices and their ongoing data services are generating benefits for users and revenue for providers. These conditions equate to opportunity, which further the likelihood of M2M suppliers flooding a new and evolving market in pursuit of market leadership.
Smart services, or the effective use of embedded Internet to deliver intelligent consumer and business services, offer significant potential for growth and revenue. Arenas such as building automation, manufacturing productivity, renewable energy, healthcare and more, are all poised to see the value of connectivity, led by standards-based intelligent devices and increasingly smarter services.
Forward progress of M2M will clearly be based on growth and availability of standards-based embedded platforms, enabling simplified deployment of smart services. Further challenges exist well beyond wireless protocols – for instance security of shared information, energy efficient performance, and extreme graphics processing.
When designers can rely on diverse Open Source software including Linux OS, chipset drivers and protocol stacks, they can minimize development and reduce their time to market. Perhaps most importantly, revenue-based smart services can be developed even with extensive wireless design expertise.
Kevin Rhoads is VP of Embedded Products at Kontron America , where he is responsible for managing the North American Divisions. He has 25 years of experience in global supply chain and contract manufacturing and holds a BS from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.