If you’re following the technical exchanges on the Internet of Things (IoT), there’s a good chance you’re on information overload. How do you figure which components match best with your application? Which wireless medium is best, and then which vendors do you go with? How do you ensure that you’re designing a product that’ll still be viable five years from now?
These are all legitimate questions, and unfortunately, they don’t come with simple answers. And those answers could change significantly over short periods of time as more products get introduced, more security breeches occur, and the technology simply matures. In some of the “non-traditional” embedded markets, like healthcare, industrial, and even mil/aero, the answers are even more esoteric.
I’ve often found that the best path, or the path with the least resistance, is that of the reference platform. You could certainly make the argument that starting with a reference platform doesn’t afford you with the lowest cost option – and that sometimes is an interesting argument – but in terms of getting to market the fastest, there’s rarely a better option.
Mind you, reference platforms come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. And many people use evaluation board and development kit as a synonym for a reference platform (guilty as charged). But there’s clearly a difference. A reference platform is generally over-designed, as it lets you try out lots of different technologies and choose those that are best suited for your end application. They usually don’t contain competing technologies on the same platform, but they will have things that are complimentary, thereby doing a lot of the design work for you.
In doing my research for an E-cast panel that I’m moderating next week, called Designing ARM-based IoT/M2M Gateways for Performance and Security, I came across a reference platform for an IoT gateway that’s offered by Avnet. The platform was designed by Freescale and it’s being manufactured by TechNexion.
Called the AgateRP, the platform is populated with Freescale’s LS1021A dual-core, 1 GHz Cortex-A7 SoC, and wireless WAN, LAN, and PAN connectivity, using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and an integrated 3G cellular modem from Multitech coupled with Aeris data service. Avnet says that cloud connectivity will be available shortly. The security features include secure and Linux role-based access control (RBAC), which are all part of the Wind River Linux package. And its IoT middleware software stack includes support for Java, MQTT and Apache.
So the short answer is to start with a reference platform, then make the right decisions for your specific application (and the E-cast will likely give you good advice, too).