Last time, in part 1, we explained how the growing M2M market is motivating a move to standards-based solutions, and how the Intel® Intelligent Systems Framework (Intel® ISF) and Digi International M2M Solution Builder Kit meet this need. This time we take a closer look at the elements of Digi’s Kit.
Long History in H/W Gateways
Digi International started over 25 years ago as a commercial networking company focusing mostly on hardware. Their original product was a multiport serial controller for the PC, which evolved by first adding wired Ethernet and LAN connections, then Wi-Fi, RF (such as ZigBee), and finally cellular radios. Today the company emphasizes embedded modules—of their own manufacture and by third parties such as Kontron—integrated with ready-to-go software into wireless M2M gateway products and services.
The company created the scalable iDigi Device Cloud and iDigi Manager Pro software to remotely manage configurations of thousands of connected M2M devices, manage software and firmware updates, set security policies, and even reboot, all with centralized access and control of devices or Digi gateways (Figure 2). Both the iDigi Device Cloud and iDigi Manager Pro software can be used on Digi's or third party products using the iDigi Device Connector (Figure 3).
Figure 2: iDigi Manager Pro shown centrally managing groups of remote devices spread out geographically.
Figure 3: iDigi Connector software can bring most M2M devices into the iDigi Cloud, depending upon the operating system flavor.
Under the Hood: Hardware
A residential example of a typical Digi design starts with the M2M Solution Builder kit acting as a home gateway or concentrator, bridged between myriad wireless devices and the home's Ethernet LAN or the on-board 3G cellular radio providing Internet access to the cloud. An 802.15.4-enabled smart meter would report energy usage and time-load statistics, while a Wi-Fi equipped thermostat, washer/dryer and heater blower would accept remote instructions while providing updates on their operational state. The heater blower, for instance, might report increased current draw as a result of a dirty filter. Smart appliances can be scheduled to turn on during off-peak electricity times, or lights can turn on as the homeowner's smartphone broadcasts a text message saying "I'm nearly home" based upon GPS coordinates.
The Digi M2M Solution Builder Kit solves the "connectivity" portion of ISF with many options. Myriad flavors of 2G/3G cellular radios provide high bandwidth data at up to 14.4 Mbits/s (HSUPA at 900 MHz), and Wi-Fi options include 802.11a/b/g/n with WPA2 security. There's also Gigabit Ethernet plus 802.15.4, although ZigBee remains a future add-on, as is Bluetooth 4.0 and 4G/LTE. Other I/O includes USB 2.0 and audio/video, plus up to four PCI Express mini card connectors for user-added I/O or processing.
But the heart of the hardware remains the Intel Atom E620T 600 MHz CPU and the x86 architecture. Instead of blindly transferring M2M data to the cloud, the Intel Atom Processor allows local processing and computing decision-making. Data can be routed between the gateway I/O (say, from a Wi-Fi connected sensor to USB disk). Image and audio processing can be done on a camera video/sound feed, and only clips or alerts that meet certain criteria need to be broadcast to the cloud. With the power of the E620T, the companion Intel Platform Controller Hub E620T, 1 GB of DDR2 SDRAM, and additional processing that a designer adds to the open PCI Express slots, the Solution Builder is a powerful platform to test-bed an M2M gateway. Future connectivity such as ZigBee or Bluetooth can be plugged in, while the Atom concurrently handles all protocols.
But besides the performance of the CPU itself is the ubiquity of the Intel x86 architecture, instruction set, and huge PC-based ecosystem. Instead of using any old embedded architecture with the challenge of creating device drivers and a custom boot sequence, the x86 architecture and its BIOS-like boot process make development a snap. Linux drivers are available for plenty of components and add-in boards, and existing x86-based applications from other designs can be easily and quickly transported into the Atom/Linux environment. Time-to-market is dramatically reduced from months of embedded development down to weeks or even days.
M2M promises to be the next wave of the Internet, bringing new services, productivity, and connections between previously "dumb" devices that will soon sport intelligence while broadcasting exabytes of data. Digi International's M2M Solution Builder Kit with Intel Atom 620T CPU is a flexible design platform from which to create an M2M gateway design or test platform. Compliant with Intel's Intelligent Systems Framework and connected to the iDigi Device Cloud, the Kit promises interoperability, manageability, and secure data transmission with other M2M nodes.
For more on extending the Internet to embedded devices, see intel.com/go/embedded-connectivity
Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. Eurotech, Digi International, McAfee, Microsoft, and Wind River are Associate members of the Alliance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance