Creating solutions for the "Internet of things"

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD


Observations from Design West 2013

One of the interesting things about working in the developing technology space is being constantly barraged by buzzwords and labels attempting to describe the myriad breakthroughs, developments, and trends constantly challenging us. This attempt to put a name on things can be illuminating, but the problem is that the labels applied don't often explain much. The "Internet of things (IOT)" is very straightforward, as it means pretty much what it says. It is impossible to overstate the ramifications of term and the concept behind it. (I propose we pronounce the acronym IOT as "eye-oat" just to make it sound interesting.) At the recent Design West conference, everyone was talking about, creating tools for, and unveiling products that addressed their aspect of the IOT and how they could add value to your design process. Intelligent networks made up of wired and wireless modular building blocks from hardware and software companies provided current solutions for systems as small as a desktop and as large as a complex, while hinting at the completely enmeshed world to come. We already take it for granted that many of our devices work within the cloud, and that number will grow as more ways are found to harness the IOT. Once a cloud-based information backplane is added to our electronic ecosystem, it will be used in ways that none of us can currently foresee. I recently did a search on a popular distribution site for RF Microcontrollers, and got 279 matches. There are so many ways to insert network-supported logic that eventually anything drawing current will be a part of the internet of things, if only for basic on/off and status commands. There is a lot we can foresee when it comes to the IOT. We already have some functionality currently fielded; we have some functionality already in the development pipeline, and we have some functionality that everyone is expecting to see. Among the most important aspects of the IOT is its ability to manage the use of power (much of it battery-driven) in a complex and power-hungry society. Power has coming into its own again. The growing recognition that energy usage, regardless of origin or type, is a primary value-add in a crowded and power-hungry world where reliable energy access and storage is as important an issue as clean water for modern civilization. This pressure for more and more efficiency is reminding designers that after determining primary functionality, a product's power source, usage, and budget should be among the first things specified. As seen at Design West and other great trade shows in our industry, the design community has a very powerful palette of tools, from better semiconductors to highly integrated microcontrollers to advanced software. The IOT reminds us that a good designer must first be a power system designer.