Embedded computing is nothing new, but as connectivity and networking have become more affordable and pervasive in mainstream products, embedded computing begins to touch every aspect of our lives. In fact, it’s probably in your pocket or purse right now and will soon be in every vehicle, appliance, medical device, industrial sensor, and military device you see. In fact, it is all around us and quickly becoming a growing network of devices known as the Internet of Things. Cisco projects that there will be as many as 50 billion connected ‘things’ by 2020 – growing from approximately 14 billion today. So what exactly is this Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things (IoT) – a term that has become increasingly popular this year – refers to an interconnected network of devices. Simplistically, the IoT might include anything from tablets to heart monitors to auto sensors to home automation systems that can be controlled through a remote device or computer from anywhere where an Internet connection is available. Essentially, anything with an IP address that can transmit data over a network is a part of the IoT. Historically, the Internet of Things has been associated with military, medical or industrial applications (e.g. power plants, oil refineries, trucking, etc.) and consisted of machine to machine communication, but has recently evolved to consumer products.
One of the earliest examples of an IoT ‘thing’ was a Coke machine in the computer science department at the Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh, PA, in the early 1980s. Several computer science students placed sensors in a Coke machine and connected it to the department’s mainframe computer. By running a program on the mainframe, it was possible to determine if a column of sodas was empty and if it had been in the machine long enough to be cold. While the modern Internet did not exist at the time, the concept of tying data gathering sensors to a processor and providing the ability to remotely monitor those sensors was a clear proxy for an Internet of Things device. It wasn’t until nearly that year 2000 that the term “Internet of Things” was coined and it wasn’t until recent years that the things in the network were marketed. Now that it’s become mainstream, it becomes more pertinent that we understand exactly what this Internet of Things is, what goes into it and why it matters. At the heart of every single IoT device are common components: sensors to gather data, memory to store the data, a processor to process and move the data, and network connectivity to allow the data to get to the Internet – all the components of an embedded computing system.
So let’s take a moment to understand what an embedded system is: Simply put, an embedded system is a computer system that is built into what traditionally may have been a “dumb” device (an electronic device that performs a non-computing function). Typically, embedded systems have constraints such as: the need to be mobile, low power consumption so they can run on batteries, size constraints, need for thermal management to prevent overheating, exposure to harsh environments, and many other application specific constraints. The computing requirements are typically less than a laptop or desktop computer; therefore embedded solutions utilize more efficient processors (or CPUs), such as ARM processors or microcontrollers. These processors are integrated with memory, storage, and additional peripheral interfaces, such as USB, display control, serial ports or specialized connections for a sensor, all designed onto a low cost circuit board. Embedded systems are designed for specific tasks. This allows engineers to customize the system, which reduces size and power consumption while optimizing cost, system reliability, and performance.
Embedded systems have opened to the door for the Internet of Things to take hold and begin to flourish; creating this growing network of things is InHand’s bread and butter. While the Internet of Things may be a relatively new buzz word, embedded computing has been around for decades. InHand has been designing and manufacturing embedded solutions for years for military, medical, and industrial applications. These industries often face unique challenges that require small, power savvy, and rugged mobile device solutions. As technology advances, components get smaller, and manufacturing more affordable, embedded systems have enabled more and more applications and thus have facilitated the recent evolution of the Internet of Things.
To us, embedded systems are nothing new. For years they have been the base for our customer’s custom projects, which focus on mobility and wireless handheld or remotely distributed device designs. But since the embedded systems have become more widely available and technically interesting (e.g. Raspberry Pi), more wireless and mobile devices have been designed. And with that the embedded system becomes the key to everything – King of the Internet of Things, if you will – connecting and enabling communication between devices.
Since the diversity of the devices that makes up the IoT is so broad, each system requires a specific set of peripherals to meet their requirements. The design of the embedded system plays an enormous role in the functionality of the device; from available inputs and options to product life-cycle and run time. Management of the device is critical as well. One certainty is that once an IoT device is deployed, there will be opportunities to upgrade software or firmware to improve performance or add to the feature set. The ability to remotely touch and re-program all elements of a device in a secure way is a must have for future IoT deployments. InHand has designed this capability into all of our products and – coupled with our InHand Device Manger – we are able to provide the ability to manage the devices we create, once deployed. This is why it is incredibly important to build embedded systems optimized to meet the specific needs of our customers. We succeed because we start from our own proven COTS product, modified for the specific application environment, and implement all of the elements of embedded design that are critical for your product’s success. Modified COTS embedded systems deliver the product you need with minimized cost, schedule, and risk while enabling features optimized for your application and markets.
Do you have a concept and are looking to enter the Internet of Things? It is likely that we have already designed something similar to your product requirements. Contact us. Our knowledge of embedded systems will be your key to the Internet of Things.