What does low-power edge silicon have in common with Java-based Software Development Kits (SDKs)? For Rajeev Kumar of Freescale Semiconductor, the answer is, "the ability to take an infrastructure that normally was only available to multi-billion dollar, worldwide companies and bring that down to the masses."
So when we think about IoT, fundamentally IoT is about embedded processing, it’s about connectivity, it’s about sensors to bring that information and that intelligence into the system. The other element of it in terms of the data analysis and so on, that’s where we really look to partner with other companies. One of the things that we’ve done over the last several years is establish a strategic partnership with Oracle. The reason why Oracle is important is that Oracle is well known in the industry for “Big Data” cloud services, being able to take a high volume of information and being able to analyze that. There are millions of Java developers all over the world. And what we’ve done with Oracle is we’ve combined their Big Data with their Java capability with the scalability that we have inside of the processing elements inside of Freescale. So we can take Java for example, run it on an i.MX processor where you need a lot of horsepower, or run it on a Kinetis device where you only need a little bit of horsepower, and be able to tie those intelligent nodes into a managed type of system that can utilize Oracle Big Data services, so now it’s very easy for an individual to gather all of this information and do something with it.
We have a customer of ours that’s in the bar and restaurant services business, and what they’ve done is develop this system that is based off of a i.MX gateway, so it’s pretty much a hockey puck-sized box that they’ve installed. That gateway is running Java on top of i.MX, and because it’s running Java it has inherent security built into it and ties into the Oracle Big Data network. On the installation side the end nodes that it connects to are intelligent wireless pour spouts. And the way the system works is you put the spout onto liquor bottles, you tie all this together, and now what you do is you give the owner of the establishment the ability to have real-time access to liquor levels as inventory management needs go up or down in terms of being able to manage that in real time. This is a small example of the ability to take an infrastructure that normally was only available to multi-billion dollar, worldwide companies and bring that down to the masses if you will, to really enable the whole IoT segment as we talk about it today.
Q: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges moving forward on the device side?
Today there is a clear lack of standardization within the IoT space, and what I see a lot is I’ll talk to customers that oftentimes are building smaller, closed proprietary systems. The system basically looks like an IoT system from the perspective that it’s got a bunch of intelligent end nodes, whether it’s for things in your house for home automation or building control or whatever, and those end nodes are tied together running through a gateway box going up to a proprietary cloud-based infrastructure that’s then able to do some analysis, provide services, and so on. From a generic model perspective, we see that quite a bit. Oftentimes today they’re proprietary closed systems. Though somebody may be using a hosted server to run the cloud, somebody may be using a proprietary server to run the cloud, but ultimately they’re closed systems. I think what we’re going to see over the next few years is a proliferation of a lot of these closed systems, and as companies that may have entered the IoT space developing closed systems look to cost optimize for future generations; as they look to open up their capabilities to interoperate with other companies' products, perhaps other companies services, perhaps they want to develop an ecosystem of services to be able to deploy services through the cloud onto these intelligent nodes; as that momentum builds, that’s where I see things like a Java/i.MX platform will gain wider and wider adoption because the dynamics of cost effectiveness, the ability to leverage the Big Data services in a cloud from Oracle have cost efficiencies associated with that that really are hard to overlook. From a hardware perspective, we can scale anywhere from multicore systems down to very-low-end microcontrollers and be able to offer that price/performance scalability that’s very difficult to find if you’re building a closed system.
Q: How do you plan on dealing with the different types of connectivity out there?
When it comes to connectivity what you’ll see is we’ll have our hands in pretty much all the major connectivity elements within IoT with perhaps the exception of cellular. Cellular is an area where we would look to partner with one of the established cellular guys that are out there today. With all the other connectivity components there are multiple ways to integrate connectivity into the portfolio. You can have standalone connectivity that you put on the hardware, you can have connectivity that separates out the protocol stack integrated into the processor, or you could have wireless integrated with a processor onto a single package. Depending on the type of device you are trying to build, all of those architectural choices.
The things that we try to do from a Freescale perspective is cover all of the different price/performance possibilities there are, so what you’re going to see us do is have really integrated versions, discrete versions, kind of semi-integrated versions as well that do cover all those scenarios.
Q: How do you handle the application domains that can’t inherently speak with each other across different devices?
When we look at a market segment we always try to be compliant to the industry standards that are appropriate there. In the medical space today we have a very strong focus in medical devices, in home health, telehealth, hospital health, in the doctor’s office, and so on. As we look at the home health opportunities, one important standard there to be compliant to is the Continua Health interoperability standard in that market segment, and we’ve designed our products to be compliant to that. What that means is you can go to your local pharmacy today, pick up intelligent devices that are in your pharmacy, and have those interact with our processor gateway system that can complete the solution. I think it’s very important to make sure that you’re standards compliant. And the standards are different, regardless of whether you’re dealing with a home health type of system or a smart energy system or home automation.
Q: What about situations where a device designed for one vertical domain needs to talk a device from another?
We’re starting to see systems that are multi-mode. So let’s take a medical/smart energy example. Say that you have a smart energy device that’s connected to the Internet for your normal transfer of data for meter reading, and let’s say that it has a different functionality somehow that’s tied into your medical needs. What you’re probably going to find is that there are two different communication paths there. Maybe from a pure smart energy perspective you’re talking Wi-Fi going back into the cloud, but to your home health device – let’s say you have a wearable device – you probably want to talk something like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). So from a connectivity standpoint, you’re going to see that there are going to be many multi-mode capabilities where you are going to have multiple protocols relevant at any one time. I think that’s going to be a common type of implementation.
The other type of area where we’re seeing this being deployed is home automation. If you’re building different devices that go into a home – call it a security panel, thermostat, what have you – these devices typically want to talk to each other. These systems are all becoming intelligent, there’s a need for these devices to communicate with each other to understand what the status is of each device. That oftentimes occurs over one communication channel today – which could be ZigBee – but you also want to be able to communicate to maybe an iPhone or Android phone or web tablet, and that is most typically done through BLE or maybe even Wi-Fi in some cases.
Q: So what is your involvement in helping drive some of the standards that will be needed for these different industries?
At this point our focus has been to help evangelize what IoT is, what the vision for this is, and putting a lot of effort into establishing a lot of partnerships, doing a lot of the foundational work for the iot implementation. There are currently a lot of standards bodies out there and we are monitoring their development, but there is the saying that “every company has a ‘standard.’” From an industry organization/standardization perspective, we’re still in a monitoring mode to decide what to do. Often what happens with these industry bodies is that they are good at defining things, but things trail off after that. We want to get this to a stage where this is a reality and the other parts will follow.