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Embedded systems enable Internet of Things

Posted: 17 Nov 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet of Things  IoT  sensors  processors 

Without communications, we cannot engage in interconnectivity. Without the software support there will be no way to connect things to each other. This in literal terms defines the signal chain for IoT applications, .i.e. "Sense-Compute-Communicate", which then needs to be integrated/embedded smartly together.

At Analog Devices, we are seeing the emergence of game-changing technologies. These include the sensor and sensor node explosion and the associated trend towards solutions that ensure lower energy consumption.

Smart objects use sensors to capture their environment, measuring parameters such as temperature, motion or position. Companies are installing sensors all along the commercial corridor to monitor and track the flow of goods.

Sensors measure the vibrations and material conditions in buildings, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure to access the structural health of the built environment and determine when to make needed repairs. The types of sensing nodes needed for IoT vary widely, depending upon the applications involved. MEMS sensors combine many functions in a single housing just a few millimeters in size, making them ideal for Internet of Things applications.

A further key trend is the printing of sensor elements directly onto the surfaces of smart objects based on combinations of different functional materials. These printed electronic components permit the production of low cost, more robust sensors.

Wireless communications
Low power wireless is set to play a significant role in providing connectivity for IoT driven applications. As a result, Embedded Developers and engineers will increasingly be tasked with adding wireless to their embedded products.

One possible solution – low power sub-GHz wireless. Sub-GHz is a good choice over competing technologies as it offers longer communication range and potentially increased robustness. Typical sub-GHz radio ICs allow multi-band, multi-mode operation across a wide range of data rates and channel bandwidths.

They employ flexible packet management features and MAC layer support, in order to meet the requirements of the proprietary based protocols that are so common in the sub-GHz ISM bands. For the RF Design Engineer, the flexibility of a sub-GHz radio IC can be of great value in developing a product. However for the Embedded Engineer tasked with utilizing sub-GHz wireless in an application, getting started with a sub-GHz radio IC can be a very daunting challenge.

The Internet of Things demands extremely cost-effective, power-saving yet powerful processors. The modern-day semiconductor industry offers microprocessors featuring low-power circuit design which consume just a few micro-amperes per megahertz of computing power. MCU's are the programmable brains of the IoT.

Processors are now expected to do a lot more controlling, sensing, and interfacing while consuming very little power and area. In addition, the ability to easily configure the processor by selecting, minimizing, adjusting, or reducing features to tailor its performance for specific application requirements is essential.

Energy and power management
Low power requirement is a key feature of all the components (sensors, MCU, transceivers) forming a part of the Internet of Things signal chain. According to Gartner's report (12 December, 2013), there will be 26 billion devices connected to each other and to the internet by 2020.

Combined, these devices will have a power requirement which is non-deliverable by conventional energy generation methods. Regular batteries are too maintenance-intensive for most applications on the Internet of Things, given that they have to be replaced on a regular basis.

Energy Harvesting techniques are being considered as a sustainable solution, wherein the required power is generated by the ambient energy sources-light, movement, heat etc. In a typical IoT smart sensor application, the wireless sensor node sits idle for long periods of activity for sensor data acquisition and wireless transmission.

As a result, power consumption for the underlying wireless sensor system can exhibit periodic peaks of power demand separated by extended periods of quiescent operation. This in turn mandates the use of energy-storage devices such as super capacitors and thin film batteries to meet peak power requirements.

In conclusion the internet has, is and will continue to revolutionize the social and economic world in its own good and bad ways. Now, with the addition of Things to this web the requirement for more and more semiconductor content is inevitable.

If the Industry is to succeed in churning out billions and trillions of smart devices, ensuring rapid development and production of embedded systems for IoT applications is a key critical element, hence rightfully making it the embedded-Internet of Things.

About the author
Vidushi Kshatri works as an Application Engineer at Analog Devices. She comes with a background in Electronics and Communications engineering and takes care of emerging technologies like IoT, Chemical Analysis & Environmental Monitoring and Energy Harvesting.

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