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SAN FRANCISCO—On the long winding road to the Internet of Things, are we there yet?
That was the very question addressed by a panel at the 52nd Design Automation Conference here (June 11): “The Long and Winding Road to IoT Connectivity: Are We There Yet?” Panelists, led by moderator Nick Sargologos, marketing manager with Freescale’s Digital Networking Division, agreed that it’s probably best to think of it as a journey not a destination. For the panelists, IoT is not only has a variety of definitions but the design requirements within the seemingly endless applications are so diverse that constant evolution, education and optimization likely will be the norm.
Warning: Curves AheadAnd it’s early days.
“We’re still in that first phase when the product definition process looks something like this: Take the word ‘Internet connected’ and flip open the dictionary,” said Chris Rowen, CTO of Cadence’s IP Group. “Put your finger down and read the word there and that’s a product plan. You get an Internet-connected bagel.” Rowen added that IoT is an “almost useless” term.
Wael William Diab, a panelist and senior director at Huawei, suggested that the road to IoT connectivity is forming before our eyes because two technology curves, “science fiction” and “science faction,” are beginning to converge.“These technologies are maturing to point to enable us to do what we couldn’t do before… (and) IoT is moving into more and more markets,” he said. As they waded through what they thought were other market inhibitors, panelists agreed that diversity is as much an opportunity as a challenge. Traction, StabilityDiversity, on the one hand, means designs don’t necessarily scale across markets. But there are unifying characteristics, as Rowen pointed out.“How do I build it, secure it, and make it interoperate?” he said. “So we break down the boundary of what we thought of in the past as a system, which is typically something you can hold. This ‘thing’ is (now) not the system. The system is the ‘thing’ plus the gateway, plus the cloud services that are associated with it.”
Engineers need to be architecting, designing, programming, maintaining and optimizing all of those things simultaneously, he added. Vic Kulkarni, senior vice president and general manager of the Apache business unit at ANSYS, noted diversity can have its physics challenges. A Fitbit has sensors and antennae that need to work within the band itself but also not interfere with other devices, he said. It’s not so critical when the use case is recreation, he said, but when such wearables are more critical to a person’s health monitoring, care must be taken in its design.
Alex Jin-Sung Choi, CTO of SK Telecom Co., Ltd., argued the design ecosystem needs to think about “sustainable IoT service platforms,” otherwise it risks getting siloed. Once that happens, technology becomes costly because design reuse is severely curtailed, he added. David Flynn, director of technology and Fellow with ARM, noted that the biggest inhibitor is the sheer complexity of the design challenge. There are security design issues, the managing and commissioning of devices, managing software along the design chain and considering not only the design but environmental impact of batteries.“You have worry about the whole thing in your hand,” Flynn said. “The processor is a tiny part of the problem.” SecurityA key concern for IoT design teams, of course, is security, given not only the vast number of potentially vulnerable nodes but also the ramifications on — for example — the electrical grid, should infiltration occur. (Or, to paraphrase a subsequent audience question, “how is this not going to become a complete disaster?”). Design teams need to assess the requirements of the sector they’re serving and consider not just their vertical solution but how it fits in on a horizontal axis.“Security comes at a cost, whether it’s a dollar cost or computing costs and latency costs,” Diab said.
Rowen noted that there is a lingering environment “of fear and uncertainty” around security and the industry lacks the certifications common in sectors such as consumer electronics that give users comfort.Kulkarni, citing data that security breaches can cost companies up to $400 per stolen record, said “security and privacy both have to be built in right from IP to the electronics (systems) side to the embedded core.”
ConnectivityHow the IoT is weaved together brought a little more disagreement from the panelists. What will win in the long term? 802.11 variants? Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)? LTE Category 0? 6LoWPAN? Diab said teams need to consider context when designing their connectivity solutions. “It’s hard to say it’s going to be one (solution),” he said. “The more important question is how are we going to connect these in a seamless way?”
It may have been ARM’s Flynn who sounded an amusing note of caution for engineering teams in the IoT space. Flynn noted that the Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road” song is a sad story. “You discovered you are back where you started,” he said. Brian Fuller
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