13-03-2019 | By Mark Patrick
Last week saw much of Mouser’s European team over in Nuremberg, attending the annual Embedded World exhibition and conference. Not far from our stand in Hall 3A, was the Start-Up Area. When there was a little bit of time available in my otherwise packed schedule, I decided to take a look around it and speak to some of those exhibiting. What I found was a diverse collection of vibrant young companies, all with aspirations of making their mark in the global electronics arena.
In the coming years, IoT technology is going to see an uptake in a broad spectrum of different industry sectors, and many of these will be outside the realm of traditional engineering. Consequently, design and deployment won’t always be placed in the hands of people with actual programming experience. Providing a completely code-free environment, Streamsheets is a valuable IoT orchestration tool for use in such circumstances. Developed by award-winning German start-up Celado - this intuitive, visually-oriented platform allows all the constituent digital assets within an IoT implementation (including sensors, actuators, enterprise software, apps, etc.) to be connected to direct data streams - thereby enabling the rapid establishment of workflows ranging from low to high degrees of sophistication and addressing small-scale right through to large-scale deployments. As it is based on Excel, it presents the user with a package that has a very familiar look and feel, and is thus more comfortable to work in. Real-time dashboards can be generated for monitoring and analysis purposes. All commonly used IoT protocols (including OPC UA, MQTT, AMQP. REST and suchlike) are supported.
Also applying a visual approach, the aim of Contunity is to facilitate board level design and procurement activities. Through it, the layout of electronic circuitry can be described in the form of simple, functional blocks. This means that the system will be much more straightforward to understand, which is beneficial to less experienced engineers and will consequently help to accelerate project progression. Feedback may be gained, through the use of cloud-based algorithms, on the system’s main performance parameters and alterations to the design subsequently be made. Trade-off analysis can be undertaken to determine which functional blocks (and the components that they relate to) prove most suited to the application requirements and from this, a complete bill-of-materials can be compiled.
Figure 1: Contunity's hardware design platform
Anglo-Dutch start-up Pycom used this year’s show to announce its latest item of hardware. With the objective of hitting an attractive price point, Pygate is an 8-channel gateway board in a compact form factor. Intended for IoT deployment, it supports operation in the 863MHz-870MHz and 902MHz-928MHz frequency bands. The board features a pair of Semtech SX1257 transceivers, along with a SX1308 baseband processor. It can be powered using either its USB interface, power-over-Ethernet or a lithium-polymer battery.
Utilising near-field ultrasonic technology, the Toposens sensor solution is due for full release in June. Targeting close-range applications, it will enable 3D rendering of the surrounding environment in an accurate but cost-effective manner through the emission of ultrasound signals and the receiving of their reflections. It will allow robots to get a better perception of any obstacles in their vicinity and vehicles to carry out autonomous parking. The solution is both compact and lightweight, and it draws only minimal current. Since it relies on an ultrasound-based sensing mechanism (as opposed to optoelectronics), it does not require heavy processing resource to support it. Furthermore, it is not detrimentally affected by variations in lighting conditions.
Located near Frankfurt, HANECS is involved in automotive networking. This fledgeling company has developed advanced software for use in creating vehicles’ safety-related electronic control units (ECUs). At its stand, visitors could see a demonstration of an in-vehicle network based on the widely used AUTOSAR platform. Through this, the different ECUs could communicate with one another in a secure, low latency environment that complied with the latest functional safety standards. If an obstacle was detected by the sensors, then the ADAS could be immediately informed, and an appropriate response initiated.
Swedish academic spin-out Ekkono was one of the three companies shortlisted by the judging panel for the Embedded World Start-Up 2019 Award. By applying techniques that were initialling researched at the University of Borås, the company has brought a lightweight machine learning engine to the market that can run on resource-constrained IoT hardware. This means that IoT nodes will have the level of intelligence needed to directly act on acquired data, hence avoiding the latency issues of needing to send data back to the cloud for decisions to be made on it.
Figure 2: The Ekkono team demonstration intelligent IoT
In the end, French firm Wisebatt would beat Ekkono to the prize. It provides engineers with a powerful simulation tool for supporting IoT deployment. Through this, numerous virtual prototypes can be constructed, and potential use case scenarios experimented with - so that the final implementation offers the best balance of performance, power consumption and overall cost. The result is that an optimal solution for the specific application criteria set can be derived. Schematics can be drawn out, and the necessary components identified automatically from an expansive library. Also, there is a power analysis feature, via which an in-depth assessment of the system’s energy consumption may be carried out. By employing this tool, engineering teams can expect to take several months off the development period and significantly reduce the associated R&D spend.
Figure 3: The Wisebatt simulation tool for IoT implementations
With such an abundance of talented new companies now starting to appear, each with well-defined niches that they are looking to address, I feel very optimistic for the future of the electronics business and its ability to solve the real-world problems that society is currently facing. I will definitely be spending time in the Embedded World Start-Up Area this time next year.