TV: What do you do? How are you contributing to the realization and maturation of the Internet of Things (IoT)?
MP: I am currently working on new ultra low power wireless devices and systems compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, which supports wireless applications such as ZigBee and IPv6/6LoWPAN. Providing standards based reference designs and implementation helps our customers bring IoT devices quickly to the market.
TV: What products do you see becoming the potential glue for Internet of Things embedded designs?
MP: IoT in my mind is all about connectivity and there is a major trend towards wireless. There are many standards competing for designs in the IoT space, but I believe low power solutions like ZigBee, Bluetooth Smart and Wi-Fi will grab the lion share of the market for IoT devices.
TV: What are some of the challenges in building out MCU Wireless and Wireless/RF enabled devices to support enterprise initiatives?
MP: The primary challenge is the lack of standards for the upper layers, and to some extent, lack of infrastructure and gateways to gather data from the IoT devices – bringing the data back into the enterprise servers for analysis.
TV: What’s your favorite MCU wireless device and why?
MP: My current favorite is Atmel’s ultra low power family of wireless microcontrollers. It’s single die design, offering a high level of integration. Plus, it is designed with ultra low power consumption in mind. The ATmegaRFR2 family is quickly grabbing market share in some relatively new markets like wireless lighting control. Major players are putting a lot of efforts into ZigBee Light Link compliant systems these days.
TV: Can you think of a reference design and various other solution sets that have helped a customer realize his or her vision of embedded architecture and design? Specifically, one that meets all design and BOM requirements – while also exceeding quality and maximizing in B2B as well as customer end to end satisfaction?
MP: Atmel has been active in the ZigBee community for many years. We have certified ZigBee Stacks and referenced implementations for firmware and hardware that we are sharing with our customers. We have a very open policy to share source code, and we are even sharing our hardware design files for our customers to use, either as is, or modified to customer needs. This way, customers can leverage years of R&D that have already been invested in the reference designs – all while moving efficiently through evaluation, prototyping and actual products ready for mass-production.
TV: Is there any advice you can offer to our readers who are forced to make tough decisions when it comes to schedule and embedded projects? For designers, architects and manufacturing managers?
MP: Learn from the mistakes of others. You do not have time to make them all yourself! Make sure you engage with suppliers that have been in the game for a while and are willing to share past experiences in terms of hardware, communication stacks and reference designs. Relying on and working with an experienced supplier will save you from some of the traditional pitfalls and challenges in wireless designs.
TV: There are so many standards related to connectivity. I can imagine the early web and many early technology paradigms in similar nascent scenarios. Which protocol and stack do you endorse as the communicator for IoT embedded designs? Does it matter?
MP: I think you’re right – the IoT is still in it’s infancy and there are still quite a few standards competing for the same applications. In the ultra low power domain IPv6/6LoWPAN is promoted by the IPSO Alliance and the ZigBee solutions promoted by the ZigBee Alliance is now fairly mature and ready for prime time. A couple of years ago the smart energy domain was very interesting, but the fastest growth today is within wireless lighting control and home automation. Do a search for “Philips Hue” and you can see some of my favorite applications right now.
TV: IoT refers to connecting literally everything to the Internet. Do you agree with this sentiment? How soon do you think this will become a reality?
MP: Yes – I do agree. And that means we are talking about a set of solutions ranging from handsets and tablets to even smaller embedded and highly specialized devices with years of battery lifetime. We’re even seeing battery-less devices being driven by energy harvesting techniques.
TV: Is the Internet of Things going to be the biggest leverage point for IT as well as valued added chain to many industries? If so, what are some of the business challenges?
MP: IoT represents huge opportunities for existing industries and it will also represent great opportunities for startups to create new business. The latest forecast provided by Gartner indicates that there will be up to 30 billion connected devices by 2020, resulting in $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets. Those are big numbers!
TV: Will competing communication standards get into the way of IoT emergence? Does lack of agreement equate to limited economies of scale? Is there a risk associated to choosing the wrong MCU Wireless device?
MP: I do not think competing standards will create any issues. Some standards will fit better than others, and especially in consumer applications growth will be driven primarily by consumer demand, rather than standardization bodies or organizations. There is an obvious risk for the product vendors tied to this – selecting the wrong standard might prohibit growth and represent a fatal decision for both startups and even established companies.
TV: IoT is obviously about more than just connecting your toaster. What are some some examples for big industries and markets where IoT can bring added value and revenue? Explain at least to a B2B customer point of view for a Fortune 500?
MP: IoT is about making everyday life easier for everyone. It’s about the introduction of the smart home, HVAC and lighting solutions coming online. It’s about alarm systems and doorlocks and cameras – everything coming online. It is also a story about a generation of people being always online, almost to the point of being addicted to internet-access. I recently saw an update to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs indicating that WiFi access is now becoming the most important requirement, perhaps even more important than food and water. I thought it was funny, but yes, there is probably some sense of truth in this as well – at least for some people.
It might not fair to give one example of products or companies, but if you look at communities like Kickstarter and search for IoT projects, there are an overwhelming number of ideas and projects.
TV: Is the IoT hype going to mature and actually become mainstream with an unfolding of emergent products that redefine the shape for products and services offered to a company? If so, tell me about some of the challenges and what can be done to make this transition easier?
MP: The IoT hype is going to mature and there will be new businesses in data collection, data transfer and data storage. New businesses will also be build around data analysis of smartphones and tablet applications.
TV: Have you heard of Amara’s law? We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. What are the potentials in the short/long term for Internet of Things as we move forward?
MP: Devices that communicate with each other enable new opportunities. This can be a device(s) within a limited geography or area, while in the longer term these devices will be connected to the cloud and can then be accessed from anywhere.
TV: Describe some of the technology partnerships and reference designs that can act as mentors and education models for engineering teams seeking to revamp/evolve their products into the world of connectivity.
MP: Atmel is involved with numerous partners in the IoT domain. We’ve enjoyed long-term partnerships with standardization bodies such as IETF and IEEE, as well as the ZigBee Alliance. Atmel is also teaming up with marketing organizations such as the IPSO Alliance and The Connected Lighting Alliance. As a silicon vendor, there is also a need for additional resources at the application level and even hardware reference designs. Over the past few years, we’ve teamed with companies like MeshNetics in the ZigBee domain (their IP was acquired by Atmel in 2008), and Seninode for their embedded IPv6/6LoWPAN solutions. (Sensinode was recently acquired by ARM). A general goal is to provide complete reference designs for both hardware and firmware in order speed the design process on the customer side, and it is also the general idea that these designs should be available as open source.
TV: What are some of the challenges associated with extending the typical product to a connected product? What are the design constraints and challenges that can be learned from one another?
MP: Atmel recently conducted an IoT survey with our key customers, revealing few technical challenges. The evolving standards enable new businesses, but it also broadens the competition.
TV: What sort of recommendations and technical advice do you offer to help core engineering teams and architects build highly connective products that can be designed and produced in the highest quality and lowest BOM available?
MP: Being responsible for the low power wireless product line in Atmel, we’re bringing out standard compliant wireless solutions including RF transceivers, wireless microcontrollers, communication stack and profiles, and even certified hardware reference designs to kickstart customer projects and bring them quickly to market.
TV: What are you currently working on and most excited about?
MP: As a marketeer for a large microcontroller and touch company, I have the opportunity to engage with products and solutions that are going to be introduced in the near future. Products that don’t exist yet – I find that part very exciting
TV: Are there any people or books that have inspired you lately?
MP: Steve Jobs. It is really amazing how he created killer products and applications, even thought we didn’t know that we wanted or needed them. The iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the Apps-store… Steve changed the world of handsets from Nokia/Blackberry dominance to the handsets as we know them today. I have also watched the speech he gave for Stanford University graduates back in 2005 many times. Steve Jobs urged the students to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life’s setbacks — including death itself. I think this was a really great speech in the sense that he asks us to think about what we really want to achieve in life, knowing that death is the only destiny we all share – no one has ever escaped it.
TV: How can we establish and negotiate technological priorities? In a world of limited bandwidth, the growth in connectivity will challenge our current network capacity to cope with data. We need a better way of understanding which services should be prioritized. For example, how can we make sure vital medical data or pluggable Internet of Things devices aren’t slowed by streaming and IoT enabled loose end points?
MP: I wouldn’t be too worried about this. Network capacity will continue to scale and various security mechanisms will deal with priorities and separate the vital networks and applications from the less critical ones.
TV: How can we take a long-term perspective on services and objects? We currently design for beginnings – getting people connected and tied into a system. How can we make sure people end relationships with service providers as easily? As more big-ticket items become connected (cars, fridges etc) and are sold on to new owners and users, this becomes increasingly important.
MP: As “things” becomes connected more and more consumers will make use of the new applications and systems. Ease of use and the willingness to change will be the keys. The consumers are a challenging set of customers as they will not accept systems and application not stable enough or easy to use. Companies offering such products will simply fail.
TV: How can we balance aspirations for the IoT with the reality of what it will be able to deliver? There are strong tensions between the aspirations and our vision of a technological future and the pragmatics of our everyday lives.
MP: I do not agree to the statement that there are strong tensions. We see enormous activity from entrepreneurs in the IoT space these days, and yet I think that this is just the very early beginning of a new mega-trend in the industry, as well as applications and services being provided to the consumers. Some of these ideas will fly and become great products, others will fail. And again, I think the consumers will be the judges when it becomes to the decision of what will be a success story and what will fail.
TV: Who represents who? Who stands up for, educates, represents and lobbies for people using the IoT or connected products? Is this the role of people centered designers? As a product extraordinaire, how can you help companies bring Internet of Things devices or connected smart products to life?
MP: That’s a really good question! With the indications I already mentioned from the analysts, (predicting a $1.9 trillion market in 2020), there are many groups and communities scratching their heads trying to figure out how to get their piece of this big pie. Some of the drive will come from the industry promoting their technology, but there will also be IoT solutions being demanded and pushed for by the consumers themselves.
TV: Who are the people using it? How do we define the communities and circles that use each product and their relationship to each other?
MP: As with most new products and solutions, quite a number of initiatives will be rolled out in high end products first. Some solutions are maybe more the limited audience of tech-freaks, but IoT is rapidly becoming a reality in everyones lives.
TV: What can we learn about IoT in everyday business communication, product design and product emergence?
MP: IoT opens up a huge space of new solutions, systems and products. We will move into a world of smarter devices, where the devices themselves are capable of communicating with other IoT devices. Some of these devices will even make decisions to interact with and control other devices without any input from human beings. Just look at the car-industry. High end cars are now able to park without a driver, they can position themselves in the lane, keep distance from the vehicle in front, and we’re about to get a fleet of cars that are able to communicate with each other, making decisions on our behalf. Some cars are also equipped with systems for automated emergency calls and even report the exact position it is calling from. These are examples of systems already available. Given the fact that the devices are connected they can also be reprogrammed to change behavior without any need for major hardware updates. This offers flexibility in design and helps keeps the platform up to date before a new hardware product design cycle needs to be kicked-off.
TV: How does rapid prototyping help drive new product developments and how does it fit with a people-centric or customer-centric methodology? How can government nurture efficiencies or disruption? Is it their role to help adopt innovation for the end customer?
MP: Rapid prototyping enables shorter development cycles, but it can also be used to spin multiple prototypes quickly to test various options and product configurations. This way you can execute modifications and changes early in the development stage and avoid costly redesigns at a later stage. This might represent the difference between a project failure and a successful product. Personally, I think governments should play an active role in innovation, making sure startups and even established companies have an environment where they can achieve sustainable growth. In the past we’ve even seen governments actively funding IoT projects during economic downturns, like what US government did back in 2009 – feeding hundreds of billion of dollars to the industry in order to create new jobs. Some of these funds went into smart energy projects rolling out smart meters as we have already seen in California.
TV: How can we track “Things” and what will this tell us about their use?
MP: There are a number of ways to track “things,” ranging from traditional GPS technology to various methods of range measurements and triangulation algorithms. This provides useful information about the device, or its owner, and can be used in many ways. I already mentioned automated emergency calls reporting a vehicle’s position, but the number of applications benefiting from location (positioning) services is really unlimited. From the retail industry for example, we see an increased demand for such services in connection to targeted commercials for each and every customer, as well as monitoring customer behavior in a shopping mall to maximize sales.
TV: What are the new interfaces and dashboards that will help people to interact with the IoT? How important will the distinction be between devices equipped with a screen (touch, etc) and those without? How does this play a role in the latest features of Atmel’s microcontrollers and microprocessors?
MP: User interfaces are extremely important. These interfaces have quickly evolved from traditional button and screens, to the touchscreen technology as we know it today. Touch screens and their related applications and user interfaces has proven very easy and intuitive to use, so it is quickly becoming the de-facto standard. This is obviously also the reason why Atmel as a company has invested heavily in touch technology over the last few years, ranging from capacitive buttons, sliders and wheels, to small and large touch screens. As more and more products utilize this technology, capacitive touch technology is rapidly becoming a standard building block in all Atmel microcontrollers.
TV: Who should ask where potential pain is in the business innovation belt? Is it the designer or business manager, or both? Do we create value and value chains that reward creators or just end user customers? How can the designer and product creativity map to microcontroller functionality and capabilities?
MP: I think this needs to be reviewed by all parties involved. Innovation is an interactive process involving everyone from the designer to the consumer. Good products will also create value for everyone involved in the process – from the design kickoff until there is a finished product in the hands of the consumer. Selecting Atmel as a design partner ensures access to a family of microcontrollers capable of scaling in terms of resources and peripherals such as wireless connectivity and touch enabled user interfaces. It is a very important strategy for Atmel to be positively aligned with the customer when defining roadmaps and the next generation of microcontrollers. The only way we can make sure we have the right technology available at the right time is to define our future roadmaps in close cooperation with our customers.