6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks - InformationWeek

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2/22/2015
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6 Internet Of Things Building Blocks

Need an embedded system to whip up an IoT prototype? These six platforms make it easier than ever to get started with embedded programming.
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Six Building Blocks for the Internet of Things
(Image: courtesy of Arduino)

(Image: courtesy of Arduino)

The "Internet of Things" is, in reality, the rise of embedded systems. Taking a small computer and embedding it in a formerly un-computerized object allows us to control the object, gather data from the object, and ultimately tie the object to other things through a network or the Internet.

Fortunately for engineers and product designers everywhere, it has become rather easy to find very capable small computers that can be rolled into an object to bring it into the Internet of Things. More to the point, it's become easy to find embedded systems that make use of the same operating systems and programming languages used in business servers and workstations.

It's difficult to overstate the importance of being able to use common operating systems and programming languages to develop prototypes and production systems for the Internet of Things. Embedded systems have been around for decades, but for most of their existence programmers have needed special software development environments to write code in unique languages (often, but not always, a variation on assembler for the processor sitting at the heart of the computer).

Now, there are various platforms on which people can develop prototypes for IoT applications. Some of these are the same platforms that will ultimately be used in a final product, while others will simply be the initial springboards from which to launch a product. Either way, the systems here will help a product development team get a project off the ground.  

There's one more thing that really must be mentioned here: Any of these systems can also be a great way to teach people programming. Whether you're thinking about a system for teaching a young person how to code, or just looking for a way to sharpen some of your skills, you won't really go wrong tinkering with any of these embedded systems.

The real challenge to you is this: What do you want to build today? The embedded platform is no longer a good excuse for avoiding the dream project you've had locked in your head.

 

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
2/23/2015 | 5:58:10 PM
Re: Aren't sensors enough
I think that's going to be a moving target Doug -- in some cases, it might be cheaper to do more computing on the edge of the network, so you're only moving data that matters, rather than extending a huge network pipe out to some remote corner of the world where you're monitoring something. 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
2/23/2015 | 6:04:34 PM
Consider these software building blocks
Curtis, You could approach this same topic from the software side as well. There's an open source Bluetooth network for the Internet of Things, called AllJoyn. It was started by QualComm but has been turned over to the Linux Foundation. It is a framework for BlueTooth communications between dissimilar devices. They can announce their presence, discover each other, state their capabiltiies, such as "I can see notifications" or "I have a clock interface" or "I have a control panel." Then there's Thread from Google's Nest unit for inter-device communications.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
2/23/2015 | 6:06:21 PM
Re: Computers Everywhere
Convenience and automation is a big part that will drive consumer adoption. Automated lighting is a good example, it is good to have lighting that has the ability to switch on/off by itself, and indirectly these automated lighting systems could save 60% of a household's cost to light up.

However, for the next one year or so, as long as oil (energy) prices remain low, I feel that consumers will not give the same weightage to energy costs as they used to give to it in the past.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/23/2015 | 6:45:38 PM
Re: IoT and Open-source
@WaqasAltaf, it's this explosion of interest from the amateur community that has me quite excited about the possibilities. It reminds me, in some ways, of the high level of "hobbyist" interest that accompanied some of the more dynamic periods of growth in the PC and mobile arenas. The fact that some of these (like the Arduino) truly lend themselves to experimentation by young people leads me to think that we could see a host of truly "out of the box" ideas!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/23/2015 | 6:48:34 PM
Re: Computers Everywhere
@ChrisMurphy, the convenience has to be there but if energy prices spike again (and I suspect they will) then the economic factors will be huge. The problem with many of the convenience applications (so far) is that their setup and user learning curves have been anything but convenient. So long as that's the case, they'll remain the domain of the wealthy (who can hire someone else to set them up) or the hobbyists (who enjoy eating the learning curve). When true "plug and play" IoT hits, then the mass market can start to take off.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/23/2015 | 6:52:09 PM
Re: Aren't sensors enough
@Doug, when many people talk about the Internet of Things they do, indeed, mean a network of connected sensors feeding some central intelligence for analysis and control. There are a lot of people, though, who feel that distributed intelligence is a better model for IoT control, and I tend to agree. I like the idea of "just enough intelligence" near the point of control, with central data logging and coordination done from a larger platform.

To a great extent it's a philosophical debate: Fortunately, we're early enough in the process to let both camps try their solutions to see which work best in the real world!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/23/2015 | 7:07:57 PM
Re: Computers Everywhere
Here's a question, @Kelly: Just how convenient would things need to be for you to eagerly embrace IoT technology? Is it a combination of convenience and price? I'm curious about where people stand on this one.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/23/2015 | 7:10:07 PM
Re: Computers Everywhere
@Brian, I completely agree with you on this: One of the critical factors for IoT designers today is that they not make decisions out of a consideration for convenience that will lock them onto a limited path for the future. That's one of the reasons I'm excited to see so many of these building blocks making use of open source software and being compatible with hardware from other vendors.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/23/2015 | 7:12:42 PM
Re: Consider these software building blocks
@Charlie, you're absolutely right: The software side of things is critical. I love the idea of AllJoyn -- the whole building control market has been plagued for years with problems resulting from designs that make it easy to build systems into new construction and impossible to add them to existing buildings. Wireless technologies get around many of those problems, and Bluetooth is far preferable to most of the proprietary systems I've seen!
DanBluePlanet
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DanBluePlanet,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/23/2015 | 9:38:08 PM
Kind of like the talking dog
Yes, there are applications where embedded computers make sense, but for the most part it is going to be more trouble then it is worth. Kind of like having a talking dog. At first it might be interesting, but after a short while you would want nothing but for it to shut up, as if really would have nothing to say of any importance, much less would it be worth the time and money.
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