Doing the Internet of Things and wearables yourself

March 1, 2014 OpenSystems Media

We are in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), and sensors are now readily available, high quality, and inexpensive. This, along with the rapidly expanding resources of the maker movement, means it’s the perfect time for everyone to DIY their own connected devices. To maximize application capabilities, a number of open hardware options have become available for makers that are optimized for IoT needs.

Making a piece of the IoT

The DIY community is already developing IoT systems, and Newark element14 used a community feedback approach to create an open-hardware platform that integrates connectivity, multimedia, and low power for an IoT-optimized, DIY-ready platform: the Revolutionizing the Internet of Things (RIoT) board (www.element14.com/riotboard).

“We looked at our element14 community, the DIY community, technology requirements, and platforms available in the IoT space, then identified the strengths and gaps and tried to accommodate it all on the RIoTboard,” says Vandana Lokeshwar, Senior Technology Development Manager at Newark element14.

Based on a 1 GHz Freescale i.MX 6Solo ARM Cortex-A9 single-core processor and ARM NEON MPE (Media Processor Engine) co-processor for enhanced multimedia functionality, the RIoTboard is also equipped with a Freescale Kinetis K20 MCU for debug. The i.MX 6Solo’s mix of performance and low power is coupled with a suite of interface and I/O connectivity to enable a range of accessories and add-on peripherals for specific IoT application requirements.

RIoTboard runs Android Jelly Bean 4.3 out of the box, currently supports Linux 3.0.35, and will support upcoming Linux versions 3.10.17, 3.13, and Android KitKat. Lokeshwar cited RIoTboard as a critical enabler of app development as it does away with the need for memory intensive emulation for app development, and provides a platform to load and test apps on a fully functional Android device. This is important, as Android apps in particular are how end users are ultimately accessing and using data from the cloud.

Creating connected wearables

The wearables market is a specific area of IoT development gaining a lot of professional attention, but is also a place where anyone can get their hands dirty. ABI Research predicts that one-third of revenue in the wearables market will come from companies that don’t exist today, a forecast that Freescale is supporting through an open-source project called the Wearable Reference Platform, or WaRPboard (www.warpboard.org).

To address the challenges of connectivity, miniaturization, battery life, and usability necessary for wearables, Freescale – in conjunction with Kynetics and Revolution Robotics – worked together to define the WaRPboard with a hybrid architecture approach. The WaRPboard incorporates a Freescale i.MX 6SoloLite processor based on an ARM Cortex-A9 core on a main application board, while a Kinetis KL16 MCU implemented on a daughtercard operates as a sensor hub and wireless charging MCU. Xtrinsic sensors, including an accelerometer and magnetometer, are implemented throughout the reference platform to facilitate systems that may require positioning and speed functionality, such as a pedometer.

Emphasizing low power and cost efficiency over graphics performance, the i.MX 6SoloLite “was designed and architected for consumer devices that don’t need high-end multimedia capabilities, but rather need an optimal balance between power, performance, and size,” says Sujata Neidig, Consumer Business Manager, Microcontrollers at Freescale. The WaRPboard’s 6SoloLite runs Freescale’s Android Jelly Bean 4.3 BSP, which supports Android Launcher and application UIs optimized for small size displays, while the Kinetis KL16 provides low-power sensor aggregation.

The WaRPboard development kit, including the application board, daughtercard, 1.4" display, battery, and support software, will be available in Q2 2014.

DIY IoT

As connectivity continues to consume the world, open hardware and the maker movement are removing the barriers to IoT entry – regardless of the use case.

“The whole Internet of Things is a really unique opportunity for the DIY community (innovators and technology enthusiasts), and people are already leveraging it,” Lokeshwar says. “It’s basically now to a stage that corporations or professional engineers and [maker] groups are pretty much at the same level of understanding in terms of what the industry needs or what the actual solution required is.”

Monique DeVoe (Managing Editor)
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