Why Embedded Devices are not Embedded IoT Devices

Last night, I attended a meetup run by the Embedded Engineering group here in London at a posh City address. On a floor with a so-so view sat a large model racing car -installed right in the middle of the room. Much to the delight of the overwhelmingly male audience, they had pizza and beer. After being chatted up by someone my son would probably refer to as a ‘random old dude’ for 20 minutes, the first talk began. The speaker introduced the concept of APIs. Surprisingly, many attendees had little or no experience with them. The second talk had something to do with Cisco. At this point, my attention wandered over to the large, high definition tv streaming news about the latest global calamity.

I zoned out because I realised that embedded engineering tends to cover devices that connect via wi-fi or ethernet — two no no’s for IoT due to their cost and excessive power consumption. Nonetheless, embedded engineers do have advice to offer IoT device enthusiasts. For instance, we all share an interest in edge computing. Let’s Wikipedia the term. “Edge computing is pushing the frontier of applications, data, and services away from centralized nodes to the logical extremes of a network. It enables analytics and knowledge generation to occur at the source of the data.” Here is a (somewhat blurred) picture to bring the jargon to life — but not by too much.

The above picture shows a wearable sensor connected to an edge device (probably a smartphone). That device streams to the cloud. Admittedly, IoT people would probably consider ‘smartphones as edge devices’ the easy way out. Such a setup essentially offloads the power and cost issues onto the owner of the phone (how convenient). It would be great to see how people cater to a scenario in which a sensor streams to a gateway, which in turn transmits data to the cloud.

You may be wondering what the above picture has to do with my suggestion of an edge computing architecture which relies on gateways? Nothing. None of the free use pictures returned by Google showed the ideal edge computing setup. We will have to make due by analogy. The M Star is essentially the embedded IoT device. The Sun G Star is the gateway and A Star is the cloud. Continuing the analogy, M Star device ‘speaks’ to G Star gateway via LPWAN — not wifi or ethernet. LPWAN is also much much less expensive. G Star transmits to the A Star cloud when necessary.

Now that the connectivity question is taken care of, the next question becomes, “What products will allow me to connect to the gateway provider? And who are the best gateway providers? I am researching these questions for my own company, MobiCycle Ltd. I am intrigued by MicroEJ, NVIDIA’s Jetson TX2 Module, Everynet, and others. So, stay tuned and I will update you on my progress when appropriate.

As I was writing this blog post, Sky emails me. They request speakers and future topic suggestions. I recommend a discussion on embedded IoT devices. And so the journey begins….

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