Machine-to-Machine Systems: Autonomy under Control
Accelerating Machine-to-Machine System Development with Embedded Software
The advent of standardized components and tools will ease and accelerate the development of M2M systems by providing compatible and complete solutions that will implement ready-to-go software platforms and connectivity.
KURT HOCHANADEL, EUROTECH AND BRIAN VEZZA, WIND RIVER
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In machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, a device captures an event and relays meaningful information to an application through a network. M2M means smart—from smart services to smart connectivity to smart devices in every industry.
M2M systems are becoming smarter every day, giving a more accurate picture of what is happening in closer to real time than ever before. This valuable information enhances productivity as organizations use it to make smarter decisions faster, which can lead to reduced costs and improved processes.
Not only are M2M applications becoming more valuable, they are becoming more ubiquitous as well. According to a recent study conducted by IDC, over 33% of all connected devices shipped in 2015 will be “Intelligent Systems” or M2M devices (Figure 1). IDC defines Intelligent Systems as connected embedded devices with a high level operating system (OS).
Growth of embedded units shipped annually in millions. According to a 2011 study by IDC, Intelligent Systems are growing four times faster than traditional embedded systems.
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg said, “In the future everything that will benefit from being connected, will be connected.” The number of connected devices worldwide is expected to rapidly increase over the next 10 years—now the challenge is developing these smart devices in the simplest, fastest, most cost-effective way possible.
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are often challenged to develop M2M solutions since the process can be complex and may extend beyond their area of expertise. Embedded software operating systems, middleware platforms and tools can simplify M2M and accelerate its adoption in the marketplace.
Accelerating M2M through embedded software improves time-to-market with an integrated, optimized solution instead of a hand-crafted system. By leveraging embedded software, OEMs can reduce the cost of embedded product development and focus on their core competencies and differentiators instead of the “foundation” software.
The Challenges of Do-It-Yourself M2M
For companies just starting M2M projects, a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach can look attractive. M2M sounds deceptively simple: Take a device, connect it, and send data to another machine. We use connected devices every day, but it took many years and focused efforts to make connecting your iPad to iTunes so easy.
The challenges of DIY M2M are vast, and risks include slower time-to-market, reduced quality, fewer features and less time to focus on value-added functionality. The same issues arise both for companies building devices with M2M functionality and for those deploying devices and M2M services. Developers typically do not know all the pitfalls they may face down the line, and may lack the broad spectrum of expertise required to develop an end-to-end M2M application.
Teams can often navigate the hardware and embedded software with the right people and the right expertise. The real sticking point is connectivity. When a device gets connected, it leads to a host of other concerns, including protocols, security, manageability, software and firmware updates, discovery, performance, cloud interface and more.
Other technology implementation challenges include decoupling producer/consumer implementations, adopting open message transports, developer-centric application frameworks, and public or private cloud deployment infrastructures.
Ultimately, the team must consider the reason they need the M2M solution in the first place. Reasons vary, but typically the solution will either monitor or control an aspect of the operating environment. Data will be generated that can be analyzed to provide situational awareness. Of course, the solution will probably need to be able to scale and add new devices over time.
All of these considerations lead to any number of pitfalls that can slow down the product or project, increasing risk and expenses, and reducing value. DIY M2M requires a broad range of expertise. Companies have expertise in many areas, but will almost always be missing a few areas and may not recognize it until deep into the project when it can be expensive to adjust.
As billions of new M2M devices are developed and connected in the marketplace, each will need a minimum kit of functionality to address these issues, and embedded software can help to simplify the process.
The Building Blocks for Successful M2M Solutions
Teams often take only a passing glance at the M2M software “foundation”—the protocols, security mechanisms and management aspects—and skip ahead to making sense of the data. However, if the foundation is not in place and solid, the project is prone to issues down the road.
The M2M software foundation has two primary functions. One is that it provides the ability to connect and manage M2M devices securely while ensuring that they perform at expected levels. These capabilities need to be built into the devices from day one. The second is the ability to minimize operational expenses and headaches. Many businesses will start small, with a limited number of M2M devices in a pilot. A solid M2M foundation allows for future expansion and other devices.
Specifying M2M software requirements may seem impossible, given the multitudes of hardware options, features and deployment scenarios that must be considered. However, our experience at Wind River and Eurotech shows that while there is a broad range of M2M devices, there is a relatively small set of common software requirements. In fact, the requirements typically boil down to the following 10 key considerations, and your vendor selection process should account for each prospective vendor’s ability to deliver on these core tenets:
1. Devices must be secure, reliable and have acceptable performance.
2. Connectivity options include wired and wireless, WAN, LAN and PAN.
3. Devices must be manageable beyond just seeing if the device is working.
4. Deployments must scale to large numbers unattended.
5. M2M experience must be simplified: easy to understand, order, buy, install, build, use, operate, manage, fix, etc.
6. Solutions must be flexible.
7. Many devices will be mobile and may transition from one domain to another.
8. Location determination will be important for many devices and applications.
9. Solutions must be smart—i.e., services, data and applications all must be smart.
10. Standards must be supported.
A Solid Foundation for M2M Solutions: Linux
M2M solutions need software that is secure, manageable, scalable, simple, flexible, mobile, supports industry standards, and offers a broad range of connectivity. Linux is a solid foundation for M2M solutions with an optimized development environment, reduced project risk and faster time-to-market. Independent Software Vendor (ISV) applications often run on Linux for embedded devices, and a rich ecosystem means more resources for OEM teams. Of course, more resources can lead to more complexity, albeit of a different type, and integration of core capabilities is valuable.
An optimized embedded Linux development environment, such as Wind River Linux, provides optimized run-time, life cycle tools, open source assurance and value-adds such as services and training. In addition, by working with partners such as Eurotech, deeper integration and enhanced capabilities can be enabled.
A Standardized Approach to M2M
By using a pre-integrated operating system, hardware, connectivity and software, companies can improve time-to-market, save money and reduce risk. IT integration and communications become a native capability of the system instead of an afterthought.
Together, Kontron, Intel, Wind River and Eurotech have built a next-generation M2M Reference Design Developer Kit targeted at M2M gateways and higher performance M2M devices. The primary components are common, simplified M2M hardware based on off-the-shelf industry standard boards along with an integrated communications platform for wireless and wired connectivity. In addition, the kit includes an embedded operating system and tools plus M2M software, including cloud capability.
Collectively, this M2M development kit has transformational potential for the M2M market. Today, most companies repeat the same steps of hardware, computing, connectivity, OS and M2M software development in a thousand different ways. By using a standardized approach where a large number of the DIY M2M pitfalls are eliminated, companies can focus on their specific differentiators while speeding time-to-market. Over time, this approach will expand and provide a platform for accelerating M2M adoption.
By expanding the M2M community, M2M projects will benefit from proven knowledge and processes to accelerate the adoption of M2M solutions in the marketplace. Recently, an M2M Industry Working Group was formed to ease the development, testing and deployment of M2M solutions. The founding members of the Industry Working Group believe that the creation of open tools, open protocols, open interfaces and open application programming interfaces (APIs) is the best approach to addressing these problems, bringing tremendous value to the M2M ecosystem.
Late last year, the Eclipse Paho project also began as an open source project to create highly scalable messaging technology. The project aims to provide a more cohesive system of interconnectivity and also the possibility of an “Internet of things.” M2M is already key to much of the world’s functions, but over constrained wireless connections; this step could theoretically create new messaging opportunities, integrating web and enterprise middleware much more seamlessly with physical objects.
As the M2M community expands, the industry is working to move from what might be called M2M 1.0 to M2M 2.0 (Figure 2). Billions of embedded devices—from RFID tag readers to smartphones and cardiac monitors—can be interconnected to one another. The future of M2M lies in powerful embedded systems, open industry standards and a systematic platform approach. The M2M market can simplify device connectivity by taking advantage of these proven technologies to build smart, connected systems.