Embedded markets of nearly every stripe are clamoring for a new generation of devices that can intelligently connect to other devices, to the enterprise, and to cloud services. Customers worldwide are discovering that Internet connectivity can help boost revenues, lower costs, and enable entirely new business models. In this blog, we’ll examine emerging connectivity requirements and design solutions for various markets, including retail, medical, automotive, manufacturing, and energy.
First, let’s review two key terms: cloud computing and machine-to-machine (M2M). Pinning down an exact definition for either term is a bit tricky – everyone seems to have different ideas of what the terms mean. At the highest level, however, we can define cloud computing as the use of virtual servers available over the Internet. Intel has been very active in this area in recent years, as has the the Intel® Embedded Alliance, whose 160-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and services that give OEMs a head start on their designs. If you want to know more about the topic, the webinar Cloud Computing for Network Equipment by Premier members Emerson Network Power and RadiSys is a good place to start.
As the name implies, M2M is all about connecting machines to one another. Although definitions vary, this typically means connecting field devices to the enterprise, often through a cellular network. In many cases, M2M applications leverage cloud computing, both to provide an interface between field devices and the enterprise, and to provide specific services within the cloud. For example, the Eurotech Everyware Device Cloud, illustrated in Figure 1, provides the following services (Eurotech is an Associate member of the Alliance):
- Web-based dashboards that display device data in real time
- Management reports that monitor trends
- Integration with popular services such as Salesforce, Twitter, Facebook, and Google apps
- Notifications automatically sent to designated recipients via SMS, email, Twitter, or automated phone calls
- Simple integration into SAP, Oracle, and customer-developed applications
- Mobile support to provide relevant data to specified users on the go
Figure 1. The Eurotech Everyware Device Cloud.
M2M technology is being embraced in a wide range of applications, including retail, medical, manufacturing, and energy. For an overview of its uses, check out our M2M Experts Round Table blog with Eurotech, Premier member Kontron, Affiliate member ILS Technology, and General member GoS Networks. Or dig deeper with the white paper Connecting the Dots in M2M.
One of the key challenges of M2M is the complexity of deploying these systems. In light of this challenge, Intel recently collaborated with Kontron, ILS Technology, Wind River, and top cellular carriers to create a M2M Smart Services Developer Kit that brings together field hardware and software, cloud services, and cellular connectivity. (Wind River is an Associate member of the Alliance.) You can read all about the kit – shown in Figure 2 – in the article Fast-Tracking M2M with a Standards-based Bundle and the white paper Simplifying M2M. Additional details are also available in the webinar Speeding M2M Solutions To Markets.
Figure 2. The M2M Smart Services Developer Kit.
Now let’s zoom in a bit to see how Internet connectivity is impacting a few key markets. Digital signage makes a particularly good case study. Early digital signs mainly provided information flow in one direction. In contrast, the latest offerings incorporate anonymous video analytics (AVA) to report viewership trends to the back office, enabling advertisers to tweak their displays for greater impact. By adding two-way connectivity, signs can also support interactive features such as sales, subscriptions, and other real-time transactions. To see examples of how Emerson and Associate member Norco are supporting these applications, read the blog Connectivity and remote management key digital signage explosion and the e-book Digital Signage Gets Smart.
Connectivity is also in high demand for in-vehicle infotainment systems. Consumers increasingly expect their cars to offer services such as live traffic and streaming radio, and to connect to portable computing, cellular, or entertainment devices. A major challenge in this space is implementing a platform that can keep up with the rapid changes in consumer electronics. This is where the flexibility of Intel-based platforms can provide a significant advantage. To see example solutions from Norco, Associate member congatec, and General member OpenSynergy, see the blog Mobile computers spawn vehicle infotainment systems.
Medical applications are also clamoring for connectivity as the world moves to electronic records and hospitals seek to differentiate themselves by offering more sophisticated bedside entertainment. However, medical applications also present tough security requirements. Thus, security and remote management capabilities are paramount for connected medical devices. To see how you can implement these features, see A Prescription For a Secure Hospital by Emerson Network Power.
Finally, let’s take a look at automation markets, including industrial automation, building automation, and home automation. While these are notably diverse markets, one characteristic they share is a desire for connectivity – including connectivity both to the cloud and to local automation buses – combined with intuitive touch-screen interfaces. Intel® Atom™ processors and the Qt* software platform are a good match for these requirements, as shown in the article Touch-Screen Automation, Simplified by General member M31 S.p.A. Together these technologies enable rapid development of automation gateways (Figure 3) with sophisticated capabilities.
Figure 3. Example architecture and applications with an automation gateway.
The links I’ve listed here are a great start. For more on extending the Internet to embedded devices, see intel.com/go/embedded-connectivity.
Emerson, Kontron, and Radisys are Premier members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. congatec, Eurotech, Norco, and Wind River are Associate members of the Alliance. GoS Networks, ILS Technology, and OpenSynergy are General members.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance
Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston