IoT: Hype or reality?

Article By : Xavier Bignalet

Microchip's Xavier Bignalet believes that with IoT the question is not one of hype or reality but of when will the high volumes of sensors and data happen.

When looking at the global market activity related to IoT, all the major brands in all the segments have finally embraced a strategy towards IoT. In addition, the vast majority of small to mid-size businesses have invested in the same direction. All that to say IoT is not a solo initiative by the high tech mammoths. It’s a land of opportunity embraced by everyone. But what does it mean?

Five core functions

Really, it comes down to aggregating data from embedded systems starting at the sensor level, to add intelligence to the information collected and finally create a response. It can be an executive decision on a business operation, an operator being deployed to repair an AC, an oil and gas plant manager monitoring the operations of the platform to maximise its efficiency.

The bottom line is that five core functions need to be addressed: sense, control, secure, connect and cloud analytics.

It’s not a matter of if anymore but rather when are the high volumes of sensors and data going to happen. Conceptually, we see many IC devices gaining interest that enable functionality, communication and security. As “Things” grow in complexity and features, so does the need for increased computing power from the center to the edge of the IoT system.

Power is critical, always

Low power consumption is critical for today’s connected applications, with, in some extreme cases, devices needing to last for up to 20-plus years while running from a single battery. Because of this, devices that operate with very low power consumption for the overall system are becoming increasingly important. Microchip’s eXtreme Low Power (XLP) technology and picoPower are examples of these types of technologies.

Power is only one aspect of the IoT pillars. Easy access to connectivity is equally as important be it Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 802.15.4, Sub-GHz, LoRa, Sigfox or Ethernet.

Last, but probably the hottest topic in the IoT chain today, the mandatory and misunderstood topic of security. Provisioning private keys in hardware systems is one of the core issues in the IoT space. For instance, Microchip's AT88CKECC-AWS-XSTK zero touch provisioning kit leverages the Just in Time certificate registration and Bring Your Own Certificate (BYOC) feature of the Amazon Web Services, AWS IoT service.

Implementing hardware-based security solutions do not need to be difficult. The ATECC508A, as an example, is a crypto-companion IC physically separated from the controller naturally adding isolation between the processing core and sensitive information. The key are provisioned at our factories during the manufacturing process. Hosting the private key needed for authentication, it also eliminates licensing fee schemes.

MCMs enable integration

One more point to consider is that, today, a high-end micro-controller has a CPU, memory, analog, power management, interface peripherals, I/O ports and all the firmware needed for control. It is in fact a computer on a chip. The amount of integration will continue to increase. Multi-chip modules will take this integration much farther as we are able to combine chips built of dissimilar technologies in a single module.

To summarise, there is no hype anymore but rather a continuous effort to provide the best embedded electronic portfolio. Time to market reduction is key in this fast-paced race for innovation.

Xavier Bignalet is IoT Marketing Manager with the Home Appliance Solutions Group at Microchip Technology Inc.

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