As the number of intelligent embedded devices climbs into the billions, designers are refining the next generation of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications techniques to provide continuous, autonomous connectivity and effective remote management. M2M has been called the “next big thing” in embedded design and promises to revolutionize and standardize connectivity across many market segments including industrial, transportation, healthcare, utilities, retail, and consumer electronics. In the past, these markets employed a hodgepodge of communications techniques to interconnect devices and the enterprise however, as the M2M community expands developers are taking the next step and integrating the Internet into a cloud-computing arrangement to not only provide traditional data reporting, but to expand into additional functions such as smart services. For example, with cloud-based M2M communications, industrial device manufacturers can increase revenues by offering a variety of after sale services including remote product updates, failure detection, and even on-site repairs to reduce customer support costs and personnel.
To spark the M2M revolution, Intel has joined forces with a number of hardware and software firms to help standardize the connectivity options and build a supply of off-the-shelf products to simplify the transition to cloud computing. In the remote terminal application area, the Intel® Atom™E6xx architecture is very popular and provides a number of performance improvements to simplify M2M, small-form-factor device designs including a 7-year life cycle commitment. The E6xx series combines the 45 nm processor core plus memory and display controller into one package to reduce the component count and lower overall power requirements. Also, the front side bus used in previous generations has been replaced with a four-lane PCI Express interface giving designers the option of replacing the companion chipset with custom or third-party circuitry to create specialized I/O functions as needed. To deal with the potentially rugged environments found in many M2M applications the Intel® Atom™E6xx series processors are available in the -40 to 85 °C extended temperature range.
Several Intel® Embedded Alliance members offer service-ready platforms and start up kits designed specifically for M2M applications. For example, Kontron has developed the M2M Smart Services Developer Kit in conjunction with Intel to enable designers to develop and test an application’s connectivity and performance to shorten the product deployment process (See figure 1). The kit is based on the 1 GHz Intel® Atom™ E640T processor-powered COM Express module that is supported by an M2M-specific base board plus an audio/visual board for applications with a local graphical interface. Built-in wireless networking capabilities include 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and 802.15.4 wireless personal area network. In addition, cellular connectivity is available as a pre-installed option, or by adding a 3G/4G mini PCI Express miniCard. Storage space for M2M smart service applications, middleware, and an operating system are provided by internal and external microSD cards. With a built-in accelerometer, dual HDMI interfaces, and HD audio support, the M2M Smart Services Developer Kit enables both movement tracking as well as audio/visual intensive smart services applications.
Targeting remote terminal applications in mining, industrial, transportation, and emergency crews, Eurotech recently introduced the Zypad BR2000, a rugged, small form factor wearable and vehicle mountable computer designed for extreme environmental conditions where reliable wired and wireless connectivity are required (See figure 2). The Zypad BR2000 weighs less than 2lbs, operates from 4 to 6 hours in typical applications, and interfaces with a remote display and/or helmet monocle. Based on the 1.3 GHz Intel® Atom™ E660T processor architecture together with high-speed wired and wireless network, the Zypad BR2000 offers WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS communications capabilities. Standard I/O includes gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0, RS232/422, on-board Flash, audio, and 2D/3D video output. Operating system support includes Windows/Windows Embedded Standard 7, Wind River Linux, and several real-time operating systems. The Zypad BR2000 can run Eurotech’s Everyware™ Software Framework designed to enable M2M communications in a variety of environments. The system is also compatible with Eurotech’s Everyware™ Device Cloud with building blocks to provide device-to-cloud data exchange between distributed devices and business applications. You can find out more about the Everyware™ Device Cloud technology in part two of this series.
Low power operation and high performance are key technologies in the development of the next generation of ubiquitously connected devices. The Intel® Atom™E6xx series architecture provides these features through a flexible I/O architecture that simplifies M2M designs and shortens the time to market. If you are starting or have completed a cloud-based M2M embedded design, please offer your suggestions and share your experience or questions via comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. You can keep up with the latest technical articles and product announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on both M2M communications and connectivity.
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Kontron is a Premier member of the by Intel® Embedded Alliance. Eurotech is an Associate member of the Alliance.