The roundup – week 2

A summary of three online articles that I have found interesting in the past week.

A one stop shop for the Internet of Things

The buzz surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) has been building for at least a couple of years now with news coverage reaching an almost chaotic crescendo this week, thanks to the multitude of new technologies that were announced at the international Consumer Electronics Show.

This story, featuring in the EE Times, particularly grabbed my attention, as it details the ambitions of home appliance manufacturer Bosch to “connect the whole world”. While this level of hype is often banded about with the release of each new smart-gadget, it would appear to hold considerably more weight when coming from an organisation who already has sensors embedded in 50% of the world’s smartphones, and who are key operators in industries as diverse as power generation, automotive, and consumer white-goods.

Adopting the principles of Open Innovation, Bosch have entered into a joint venture with ABB and Cisco to provide a total IoT knowledge base; ranging from sensors through to software and cloud based services. Working with any other parties who are interested, these three organisations now plan to create a standardised and open software platform for the house of the future.

Smart home concept

Bosch’s future technologies roadmap doesn’t just feature home automation. It actually focuses on four key sectors: mobility, consumer, industrial, and energy technologies, with the aim of creating smart, connected, sustainable and secure living for all.

Field Programmable Gate Arrays to ease the IoT datacentre burden

In this article, John Daane discusses the burden that datacentres will face as IoT devices create increasing amounts of network traffic. He argues that the solution to this may involve harnessing the flexibility and massive parallelism provided by Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs).

Daane goes on to pitch his company’s solution to this problem, in the form of an FPGA development kit that is programmable and debuggable in languages that are familiar to those already working in datacentres.

While the advertisement aspects of this article are quite clear, it does provide a great insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the IoT, and raises what I believe to be two very important important points:

  1. The IoT includes more than just the relatively simple sensors, processors and actuators that are of concern to the typical embedded software engineer;
  2. Contemporary FPGA development practices are so far removed from the skill set of the average application developer that new tools are having to be created.

Putting an FPGA in the hands of Arduino developers

Keeping to the subject of FPGAs, the Xilinx blog this week featured an article on a low cost FPGA add-on board for the Arduino that is available from Hackaday.

Coming from a background of studying and working with simple 8-bit PIC and AVR microcontrollers, such as that used in the Arduino, I initially struggled with the concept of FPGAs when I first came across them being used in a design. At that point in time I was under the firm impression that every aspect of a solution could be implemented in software alone.

However, as I have gained more experience working with increasingly complex embedded systems, I have come to appreciate the important part that FPGAs play in balancing the load of hardware interface logic, freeing up the processor for higher level computational tasks.

As the complexity of an average embedded system continues to grow, with needs for faster and more secure network communications, I can only see FPGAs becoming more popular. Getting hold of this relatively cheap demo-board may therefore be a wise investment to help future-proof a career as an embedded software engineer.

An excellent complement to this board allowing for a quick start in FPGAs would be the free PDF book: Free Range VHDL, available from the free range factory.