In pursuit of “Easy-IoT”

July 17, 2018 Curt Schwaderer

Making IoT faster to deploy and easier to develop means different things to different people. Some feel more finished, pre-integrated software and hardware make application development easier. Others feel that standards around security, component integration, and management are key. While all these things are important, an often-overlooked dimension of the problem involves developer education and attention to the IoT lifecycle. I spoke with Steve Carr, Global Head of Marketing for Premier Farnell and Newark element14, about their initiatives in these areas and to discuss a recent announcement involving a Symbisa, Hanhaa, and device integration with Excel.

“Newark element14 focusses on four key pillars – education and makers, research and development, prototype and test, and production and maintenance,” Steve said. “From these pillars, we’re going one step further by participating in the development of the talent of tomorrow. Small start-ups in edge computing will eventually explode as the market matures. We want to help these innovators by making their new product introductions successful.”

Steve feels that IoT is an over-used term and today’s systems are largely just a natural evolution of the networked embedded systems that were deployed more than 30 years ago. Steve believes the next big step to push IoT forward is to focus on the edge and the new capabilities needed there. Steve mentioned that today IoT systems are largely inter-connected VPNs. He believes that in true IoT environments, the VPNs will be replaced by neural networks distributed between the edge and cloud.

Steve talked a lot about the concept of “Easy IoT” – stating that one of the biggest challenges involves integration problems. “Users are looking for value from the data and how they get it becomes less important. They don’t have the technical knowledge of how to get it, but they know what they want to do with it.”

Perhaps surprisingly there is a huge segment of the market that wants to manipulate this data using Excel. “There are over 1.1 billion Excel instances being used globally right now,” Steve said. “It’s a very familiar platform. The ability to integrate sensors with Excel has enabled Excel users to perform data analysis and dashboards in a familiar environment, but achieve things never before possible with real-time sensor data.”

The sensor module, called Symbisa, comes from Hanhaa – a start-up company Newark element14 has been involved with early on. The module consists of sensors capable of detecting and collecting environmental information including GPS location, orientation, temperature, light, and humidity. This high level of integration in one module may initially add to application cost, but the ease of integration more than pays for itself.

Another interesting item is the business model. The customer pays for the module, then pays per event being collected. This optimizes cost by only paying for events that are used. Steve cited a use case involving John Lewis – a popular merchandise store in the United Kingdom. They are utilizing the sensors to track customer return cages. The Symbisa module can be put in each secure cage and make sure they are keeping their customers’ data secure. All the data collected can be read and stored in Excel. These same kind of secure tracking applications also apply to pharmaceuticals, organ transport, and transportation. 

Adding the neural network piece sounds daunting, but Newark element14 is involved with this part of IoT as well. “There is a need to get more of the artificial intelligence and machine learning environments deployed and active. Octonion’s IoT platform is launching in the September timeframe and meets today’s and tomorrow’s clients’ requests for an end-to-end solution, from embedded layer to cloud-based services – enabling more power at the edge, but keeping things simple from a use case perspective,” Steve mentioned.

From an implementation perspective, the alliance between Newark element14and the Hanhaa IoT/Excel platform Symbisa, makes things very easy. You buy the modules that are ready to go out of the box. The pre-integration with Excel 365 is already done and the sensors are provisioned to connect with the Hanhaa mobile platform. Hanhaa has a mobile license where you register the device, then as the device starts generating information, it goes through the Hanhaa platform to the spreadsheet where the information can be fed into dashboards and customized spreadsheets. The mobile platform also allows for collaboration of the spreadsheets as they are shared and proliferate through the 365 Office suite.

Newark element14 appears to be well positioned as IoT processing advances occur at the edge. Steve summed things up this way: “We at Newark element14 are great believers in being an enabler – embedded AI and neural networking at the edge is important and more needs to be done there to realize true IoT. Only then do you get automated, intelligent processing where exception cases are coming into the cloud that allows for additional decision making processes rather than the standard monitoring type of data and applications we largely see today. IoT can’t exist in its truest form until you have that nervous system running and that requires more AI to be embedded at the edge.”

About the Author

Curt Schwaderer

Curt Schwaderer is a Technology Trends Specialist at OpenSystems Media. With over 25 years of development experience in the embedded industry, Curt has R&D experience in RTOS, WAN/LAN communications, and deep packet inspection software development for networked embedded systems from industrial control to smart devices, IoT, and set top boxes. For more information, contact Curt at cschwaderer@opensystemsmedia.com.

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