Invited guest blog from Advantech’s Louis Lu
Advantech is a leader in industrial PCs and is developing a turnkey solution for the industrial IoT (IIoT), a so-called solution ready platform. We have investigated IIoT solutions in the last few years, and found some challenges. Notably, there are diverse equipment communication protocols, and most of them are wired connections. To start to achieve the industry 4.0 vision, breakthroughs are needed now.
Advantech found there needs to be a standard interface for wireless modules, the so-called M2.COM standard, no matter which kind of wireless RF we might adopt—such as Wi-Fi, BLE, LoRa, Sigfox, NB-IoT, etc.—because this way, our customers will not need to redesign their sensor board layout or even software components; everything will be effectively plug & play. From a wireless and hardware perspective, this is a huge innovation.
Advantech provides standardized connectivity and sensor solutions to help customers easily develop their IIoT applications. For the hardware part, Advantech developed M2.COM as an open-standard sensor platform.
The provision of a fully integrated wireless MCU solution in the M2.COM module facilitates the development of IoT devices. Instead of using discrete components, designers can now employ integrated devices that combine MCUs and RF transceivers. WISE-1520 (Wi-Fi) and WISE-1510 (LoRa) are the wireless sensor nodes for the M2.COM family, and the customer can connect its sensor board to different Advantech RF modules.
For the software, interoperability is the basis of IoT equipment. This open-standard-based data design is critical to the large-scale deployment and success of IoT and machine-to-machine applications, as shown in the image below.
The next step should be standardizing the operating system, as there are many operating systems provided by diverse MCU vendors. Since we want to mitigate the development effort on the kinds of operating systems, we are a partner with ARM, and use its mbed OS system as a standard operating system for MCU applications using CoAP. We believe the mbed OS will take over RTOS fragmentation, similar to what Windows did. If this happens, there will be many valuable IoT applications based on a single operating system, meaning we could leverage and share development projects similar to how the open-source community has done this so far.
The last—and the most important—challenge is to unify the sensor schema and format. To achieve our vision outlined above—plug & play—and investigate many kinds of sensor types, there needs to be an open standard to define how to express each kind of sensor. After surveying many standards offerings, we determined the IPSO Alliance fits our needs. The IPSO Alliance is focused on enabling IoT devices to communicate, understand and trust each other with global interoperability based on open standards. Having made our selection, we have started developing our M2.COM board based on the Smart Object Guidelines. Leveraging the IPSO Smart Object Guidelines are ideally suited for constrained devices with small sensor object IDs and they define many sensor, object and resource data types. Using the Guidelines is key to achieving openness, and makes it easy to understand and implement a sensor.
IPSO Smart Objects offer us significant benefits. Communication with our customers, an open standard, and its adoption by many trusted vendors all make it a remarkable platform to persuade internal product teams and co-creation vendors to follow the same method to implement their sensor boards so that they will interoperate. IPSO improves interoperability such that our products can to be easily adapted to other services, whether in the cloud or using on-premises services. During this process, we found that some of the definitions didn’t fit industrial IoT utilizations, so we enhanced the specification and designed new categories for customers’ feedback, which was easily done.
Interoperability can pass through the sensor data to the edge device and help diverse sensors’ data be normalized and preprocessed on the edge side. Since the main purpose is to do light analytic processing and deliver quick responses to the application, it is ideal for regular operation in an industrial factory, as it monitors and reacts to defined rules. We can foresee that future edge devices will be more intelligent than before. More and more computing power will be executed on the edge side. The sensor data would be ubiquitously in the factory, so the standardization and interoperability must be essentially considered at the initial design stage.
Our objective as Advantech is to bring the smart industrial world closer, by reducing integration efforts and mitigating different data transformation consumption. When industrial users have standardized their platforms on the edge and in the cloud, efficient and effective approaches will be broadly available.