Year 2018, just like preceding years, gave an incremental capability to commonly available systems like Single Board Computers (SBC), single Board Microcontrollers (SBM), and Microcontrollers with immense capabilities serving beyond the needs of hobbyists and students, though the primary aim was to cater to the education of students.
Unlike in the past, when the manufacturers used to dictate the specifications and the development environment, now the open source movement has changed the whole ecosystem. Not only are the systems are cheaper, the development environment is free (with no Freemeium), and there are new features being added every passing year.
In other words, we have the entire system all in one box.
Be it the BLE, NFC, WiFi, and other embeddable interfaces, a rich set of open sourced tools such as “Free as in Beer” or even “Free as in speech“. We no longer have huge costly complex VLSI, FPGA, WindRiver, RTLinux and other RTOSs.
With the constant evolution of hardware and OS, the OSs are tending to get the performance of RTOS while providing great features. To top it off, OSes are free.
Single board microcontrollers are also keeping pace with single board computers and designed to work in sync with them. The Single Board Microcontrollers come with all known communication interfaces like I2C, SPI, RS-232, RS-485, extensions to Modbus, Profibus, Profinet and ASI, wireless interface like BLE, WiFi, ZigBee, SMS, 3G & 4G, 6LoWPAN, Thread, NBIoT, RFID, LoRaWAN, Weightless-P. The Firmware contains all the pluggable libraries built in the IDE, which is free and extensible.
Moving beyond SBD and SDM, the Electronic Transducers and Sensors have also changed the landscape by adopting MEMS technologies and miniaturization and Calibrated sensors such that we have Chemical, Gas, Weather, RFID, 9 Degree of Freedom(9DOF) sensor, Bio-Sensors, Flex, PIR, Spectral, Ultrasound, Laser, Proximity, Current, Piezo, Geiger counter, 14 Bit ADC, etc. They also support actuators like Electrical Solenoids, Servo motor, Hydraulic & Pneumatic, Hall effect sensors, Magnetic flux and many many more.
With the availability of the Messaging systems like Wireless, Wired, Internet (MQTT, AMQP, CoAP etc), open sourced brokers, Big Data Systems, Analytical systems, the Cloud Computing space, open sourcing and access mechanisms of the systems (like Industrial systems) that used to be isolated and siloed.
The reason that this stuff is more important now is that they are available at extremely low costs, high efficiency, small form factor, less power requirements, easy integration with microcontroller, and best of all – the sensors are widely available across world, with enough literature within easy reach of the average person.
This revolutionary shift in the ecosystem has changed the way the embedded systems are designed and built largely through the open source revolution, high penetration of Internet, and the availability of products across the world through online stores and payment systems.
The interest millennials have shown in adopting new things, the Makers Faire, easy Crowd Funding entities like KickStarter, GoFundMe and IndieGoGo, have helped spawn the creation of great products, systems, and services at a far lower price tag with smaller teams (usually freshers developing core products), and ready availability of resources.
It all boils down to the person with intention to develop something, without having to worry about the impeding factors that used to plague development.
Every CES, we see a new products being developed that push the envelope, such as Alexa, Google Home, etc.
This year was no different. We’re already seeing new and revolutionary products that will give that extra leap.
‘For A Few Dollars More’, we could boost the processing capabilities of the single board systems by adding a specialist component that brings the most recent AI capabilities to a simple system like Raspberry PI.
We have seen very advanced applications like TensorFlow, the most advanced AI tool, working on a small $35 USD Single Board Computer, without need for the high-end computational resources of RaspberryPI. Not to mention, it is available at a very low and affordable cost.
The AI library is packaged in a small low cost and parallizable chipset that could be easily integrated with Raspberry PI or BeagleBone. This chipset is seriously professional or Industrial grade rather than being just a Hobby grade.
Well we now have an AI capable single board computer, will this be a new shift in ubiquity of the technology?
Wait! Didn’t we have many issues with single board computing systems which had the embedded Linux OSes like SBC, IP Cameras, and Routers?
They all had weaknesses in security (due to retainment of default settings and weak interfaces). The Mirai bots hijacked and spread quite widely using IoT systems as host. We have many other pieces of malware that are just looking to a connectable Host system to launch their offensive.
In order to cover this gap, we have a new Crypto chipset that Generates cryptographically derived ID based on multiple device measurements, and provides an API for modern crypto algorithms for encryption and digital signing.
Until now the OSes have been generating the crypto seed using pseudo random number generators, but these new chipsets can generate digital random number generation with very high level of entropy, unlike the seed form the PRNG and at Real Time Clock at 20 PPM accuracy, extendable to 5 PPM.
This chipset, truly a pocket Dynamo, costs a dime, while offering very advanced security.
For an adventurous person, this combination of the above systems and resulting package on the form and price front can enable Megamind capabilities.
Now everyone is a company and every product becomes a company. All you need is the innovation, intent, a small work space, and a little bit of bootstrapped finances.
Will this affect the Goliaths of the Product industries? Not quite. Each of them would operate in their own space.
They could work independently or in a simple symbiotic relationship.
The industry giants have developed many tools and utilities that are at enterprise level, while very robust and secure. They are heavy, costly, and require some minimum level of hardware capability. The embedded ecosystem is not a ground for those products.
However, the big enterprises like IBM, Cisco, Google, Samsung, etc. have been watching the ecosystem closely and pruning and orienting their flagship enterprise products like Informix DB, TensorFlow, and others to work with ARM based embedded systems at price points around a few dollars.
This is great support and synergy from big companies that changes the equation.
It isn’t just the benefit to the ecosystem, but as the numbers of adopters is huge, these lower costs adds up. Another factor is the clout for the big companies in the hobbyist circles as there are many open source alternatives.
NetFoundry has been developing high performing and secure network services that would revolutionize communication in this ecosystem.
We’ve been developing zero-trust based edge security for embedded systems and the above two have been offered in combination to provide the best in high performance, enhanced security, while deployable on all computing platforms including embedded systems, quick agile creationm, and tear-off networks.
The embedded space with system-on-board, microcontroller-on-board, and all associated electronics, have gained so much power that its isn’t just the edge or the fog, but self-sustained intelligent and secure systems, that have immense capabilities and serve as intelligent systems capable of interacting with ambient systems, the Internet, and making decisions intelligently.
I could invent a hypothetical hobby agri-bot that would have eyes, vocals, ears, and would visit fields on its own, it can visually see the objects on its way to fields, study plants and its conditions, take decisions on micro irrigation after taking into account the current status and weather forecast, micro-nutriate, de-weed, selectively use pesticides, and come back and report to the analytical server about the status and plan the next day. Best of all, AT AN AFFORDABLE COST TO THE FARMER!
Now, we can faithfully say ‘Don’t underestimate the power of Edge’, it is a revolution in the making!