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An informal introduction to embedded Internet

Posted: 16 Jun 2003     Print Version  Bookmark and Share



By Steve Norman

Assistant Manager

Industrial and Distribution

Business Unit

NEC Electronics

(Europe) GmbH

Did you know that in 2002,


were in excess of $109 billion?

Go forward three years and this

figure will jump to over $289

billion. Very impressive, but

when numbers get this big they

mean nothing to most of us.

Three years ago, the

Internet was little more than a

subject of conversation for cof-

fee breaks at Star Trek conven-


then that in just three years

your parents or even grandpar-

ents would be ordering just

about anything online without

a second thought? What then

took the Internet from the

realms of the techno-junkie to

an integral part of almost

everyone's lives in such a short

span of time?

Prejudices and preconcep-

tions surrounding the Internet

have been replaced by practi-

cality. For the consumer, it

means no more worries about

getting to a shop before it

closes, or having to queue at a

checkout, or not being able to


company selling the goods or


mises, free advertising com-

pletely tailored to each shop-

per, instant market feedback

and no sales staff.

Connectivity today

We have been hearing about

embedding the Internet for

years now. In fact, I expect you

are bored stiff of seeing yet an-

other semiconductor supplier


ery month and tell you that in

five years the PC will no longer

be the primary device for ac-

cessing the Internet. How

Internet appliances are leading

the next wave of consumer and

industrial devices? How every-

thing from PDAs to pumps,


vending machines and meters

to medical equipment will need

to have some form of online

connectivity or rapidly become


Being able to play MP3s on

your fridge while it reorders

your milk is no longer the sole

driving force behind embed-

ding the Internet. Try to imag-

ine your parents surrounded by

connected devices in the next

three years. It is going to hap-

pen! Across Europe, manufac-

turers in almost every market

and application area are imple-

menting Internet connectivity.

Not tomorrow, not in three

years, but today. So where are

they doing it? If Internet con-

nectivity is not about making

the kitchen the new entertain-

ment center of our universe,

what is it about? In fact, the

kitchen is still a good place to

start looking at where Internet

connectivity applications are

already adding practical value

to manufacturers and consum-

ers alike.

One good example of em-

bedded Internet is the washing

machine. The benefits of

Internet connectivity are being

reaped before the machine is



are programmed remotely

based on where it is being in-

stalled, as are other localized

settings such as water quality

profiles to enable optimal op-

eration. An entire logistical

nightmare is removed from the

factory in an instant. Then

there is leasing options--pay-

per-wash schemes that are cre-

ating entirely new markets for

the manufacturer and provid-

ing the consumer, who previ-

ously had to visit a launderette

once per week, with an identi-

cal service in their own home

without having to buy a wash-

ing machine themselves.

Should the pricing plan

change, the manufacturer just

updates every machine at the

same time with a single e-mail

from a remote location.

What if there is a problem

with the machine? The remote

location can be notified what

the problem is and what parts

are required to fix it. No more

wasted calls to engineers--just

one visit to fix the problem,

which has been set up without

a single human intervention.


probably like to know in ad-

vance that an engineer will be

calling, so a quick e-mail from

the washing machine itself will

ensure that they are at home.

Moreover, manufacturers of

any product that might require

servicing from time to time

know that this alone presents

very significant savings. Before


machine, consider one final

challenge to designers in this

market--not only are they chal-

lenged with providing crease-

free clothing and automatic

hand-washing but also with re-

moving millions of tons of car-

bon dioxide from the atmo-

sphere every year.

Energy efficiency across all

household appliances is an-

other key area where Internet

An informal introduction to embedded Internet

connectivity is adding value.

Utility meters with integrated

modems have been around for

several years enabling remote

reading. But now this service is

being dramatically enhanced

using Internet technologies


automatically upgraded and

new payment rates can be sent

to every meter in an electricity

network using a single e-mail.

In return, every meter can

provide real-time consumption

and billing data leading to opti-

mum load profiling. If electric-

ity demands across a network

are at peak levels, the intelli-

gence that is already embedded

in a fridge or dishwasher can

use this information provided

by the meter and shut-down for

30 minutes or so. Imagine the

impact of this across thousands

of homes, not only on the envi-

ronment but also on the

consumer's electricity bill.

Consider your security sys-

tem--Internet connected of

course, so if there is a break-in,


e-mail with exact details of the

nature of the incident and ap-

propriate action can be taken.

And how many times have you

asked a neighbor to check your

house from time to time while

you are on holiday? Why not

check it yourself from a stan-

dard Web browser from any-

where in the world, and while

you are online you could also


to make your house look lived-

in? The same things are hap-


sons in factory automation,

consumer medical, building

control, test and measurement,

PC peripherals, EPOS and

other applications.

Connectivity basics

Now that everyone seems con-

vinced, one small problem



pany that produces and special-

izes in vending machines,

smoke detectors, or oscillo-


on Ethernet, Powerline, TCP/


With this in mind, let us

take a look at some of the ba-

Board-level plug-and-play connectivity is the heart of embedded net.

sics of Internet connectivity. In

the most basic sense, we are

enabling any electronic device

to communicate by providing

it with a language (Internet

Protocol) that can be univer-

sally understood. Once it is

speaking the right language,

we give it a Web address and a

Web page so we can interact

with it either using the

Internet or within a local net-

work. All of this is then embed-

ded inside a microcontroller.

Next, you need to establish

how you want to connect your

application. Many meters al-

ready have an internal modem,

so a PSTN connection makes

sense. In an industrial environ-

ment perhaps, Ethernet is

prevalent so stick with it. You

can also use ISDN or

powerline--the connection

type does not matter because

everything is speaking the

same language.

Now we need to think about



we need a TCP/IP stack to pro-

vide basic connectivity, along

with SMTP for e-mail, or HTTP

to serve up Web pages and so

on. The functions are totally



true of the TCP/IP stack itself--

an 8bit MCU is going to have

difficulty running the type of

functionality your PC offers, or

maybe your 32bit application

might be very reliant on cost.

Just like any other MCU ap-

plication, a microcontroller, a

connection and some software

running on it are just what you

need for an Internet connectiv-

ity application. All that is

missing now are some develop-

ment tools to complete the


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