Use Smart Services to take advantage of M2M connectivity

In this Product How-To article, Kevin Rhoads of Kontron explains the benefits of using the company’s M2M Smart Services Developer Kit to accelerate the creation of wireless smart services applications and provide a pre-validated platform for M2M software.

As connected devices proliferate, benefits of shared information present new opportunities for business, services and ongoing revenue. Machine-to-machine (M2M), or the concept of exchanging information without human intervention, is born of this premise and stands ready to capitalize on dramatic growth across any number of market segments.

Connected consumers, e-health, telematics and smart grid appliances present highly diverse examples of M2M’s promise – demonstrating opportunities for services, delivery of content, system optimization and a range of new possibilities based on ongoing connectivity and data sharing.

What each of these arenas has in common is the need to connect devices, and efficiently gather, share and analyze data that can be used remotely. In order to be competitive and deliver sophisticated systems in this arena, technologies, standards and platforms must be deciphered quickly – not an easy feat considering the diversity of devices, applications and means of connectivity. Application-ready platforms are answering the challenge, driving market progress by providing a speedy path to revenue-based smart services enabled by M2M protocols.

The Promise of M2M

M2M’s main principle is that ‘if it can be connected, it will be connected.’ And its overall significance lies in the transparent control of human and machine interactions, bringing greater value and new business opportunities to a variety of industries.

Billions of devices deployed as edge node and gateway devices will collect and send data non-stop, in turn increasing revenue opportunity resulting from always-on connectivity. Smart services are the intelligent applications that act and react to the collected data – and they are the key to effectively using cloud computing to communicate and aggregate data in meaningful ways.

Demand for smart services is being steadily driven by users’ higher expectations from their intelligent devices; this includes increased dependency on mobile networks, pervasive Internet and usage trends such as expanding use of video in all manner of embedded environments.

Devices will become more intelligent, seamlessly integrating smart services that provide the autonomous device management required for efficient, cost-effective and highly intelligent M2M deployments. Sparing designers from the complexities of wireless connected computer technology is essential to this process.

Connectivity Challenges

Traditional embedded challenges such as electrical design and layout, security, development cost and time-to-market apply in M2M arenas – but they are further complicated by extensive wired and wireless protocols and connectivity requirements. Device functionality and usage models generally fall into three categories:

* Indirect nodes offer indirect interface to the cloud
* Direct nodes offer direct interface to the cloud
* Gateways offer direct interface to the cloud and indirect nodes

Where Internet protocols are based on standardized hardware and software, wireless protocols can vary dramatically and may include LAN, WAN and PAN technologies such as WiFi/WiMax, 3G/4G, Bluetooth, ZigBee and many others. Sophisticated connectivity demands fine tuning that covers a multitude of design, processing and communication factors. The design ideal for smart services developers is a platform that allows these complex systems to be semi-customized in development, without the need to master complex wireless technologies. Standards-based, application-ready platforms respond by streamlining development, offering ready support for 90 percent of known software options.

The Fast Track to M2M 

Reducing development time and thus time-to-market typically means that standards-based solutions are essential. This calls for connected devices to be reinvented in a sense, using simple, extensible, flexible technologies that speed up deployment and time-to-revenue.

Reference designs can address these challenges by providing an intelligent M2M device as well as building blocks that can quickly enable an M2M data path. It’s this path that moves information from collection to cloud to aggregation to decision-making.

Using the Kontron M2M Smart Services Developer Kit (Figure 1 below), for example, designers have valuable development resource with plug and play capabilities that speed development and simplify testing of an application’s connectivity and performance.

The kit is designed to accelerate the creation of smart services applications and provides a pre-validated platform for M2M software. It also serves as the communication gateway for sending the information used for real-time business applications.

Standardized platforms such the Kontron M2M Smart Services Developer Kit provide support for a range of wireless connections, giving designers multiple opportunities for generating, aggregating and transmitting machine-to-machine data to the cloud.

Use Smart Services to take advantage of M2M connectivity

Figure 1. In Kontron’s Linux/Atom-based M2M Smart Services Developer kit, a modular architecture is used to give designers a plug and play modular hardware and software development environment by which to build a range of applications using Linux and middleware from Eurotech and ILST. 

The kit uses the Kontron COM Express-compatible Computer-on-Module (COM) nanoETXexpress-TT powered by an Intel Atom processor and includes a M2M System Carrier Board and an AV board to support headed configuration use.

This inherently modular approach simplifies manufacturing and support processes – streamlining build management with a single COM Express module versus hundreds of parts generally associated with a CPU. COMs enjoy broad industry support and designers can evaluate and select modules from a wide range of vendors.

Offering low power and small form factor, COMs are optimal for M2M deployments common to space-constrained environments such as ceilings, closets or mounted inside existing equipment or machinery.

In turn, smart services developers are freed from hardware concerns and can focus on what they do best – creating functionality, and addressing security and privacy of information as a central feature to M2M solutions.

Their application may reside on simple SIM card, communicating with the M2M device and effectively moving information along its complex path. M2M is now being defined by these sophisticated applications which interpret and apply information, enabling tangible business benefit by acting on real-time data.