Tag Archives: IoT Devices

6 memory considerations for Cortex-M7-based IoT designs


Taking a closer look at the configurable memory aspects of Cortex-M7 microcontrollers.


Tightly coupled memory (TCM) is a salient feature in the Cortex-M7 lineup as it boosts the MCU’s performance by offering single cycle access for the CPU and by securing the high-priority latency-critical requests from the peripherals.

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The early MCU implementations based on the ARM’s M7 embedded processor core — like Atmel’s SAM E70 and S70 chips — have arrived in the market. So it’d be worthwhile to have a closer look at the configurable memory aspects of M7 microcontrollers and see how the TCMs enable the execution of deterministic code and fast transfer of real-time data at the full processor speed.

Here are some of the key findings regarding the advanced memory architecture of Cortex-M7 microcontrollers:

1. TCM is Configurable

First and foremost, the size of TCM is configurable. TCM, which is part of the physical memory map of the MCU, supports up to 16MB of tightly coupled memory. The configurability of the ARM Cortex-M7 core allows SoC architects to integrate a range of cache sizes. So that industrial and Internet of Things product developers can determine the amount of critical code and real-time data in TCM to meet the needs of the target application.

The Atmel | SMART Cortex-M7 architecture doesn’t specify what type of memory or how much memory should be provided; instead, it leaves these decisions to designers implementing M7 in a microcontroller as a venue for differentiation. Consequently, a flexible memory system can be optimized for performance, determinism and low latency, and thus can be tuned to specific application requirements.

2. Instruction TCM

Instruction TCM or ITCM implements critical code with deterministic execution for real-time processing applications such as audio encoding/decoding, audio processing and motor control. The use of standard memory will lead to delays due to cache misses and interrupts, and therefore will hamper the deterministic timing required for real-time response and seamless audio and video performance.

The deterministic critical software routines should be loaded in a 64-bit instruction memory port (ITCM) that supports dual-issue processor architecture and provide single-cycle access for the CPU to boost MCU performance. However, developers need to carefully calibrate the amount of code that need zero-wait execution performance to determine the amount of ITCM required in an MCU device.

The anatomy of TCM inside the M7 architecture

The anatomy of TCM inside the M7 architecture.

3. Data TCM

Data TCM or DTCM is used in fast data processing tasks like 2D bar decoding and fingerprint and voice recognition. There are two data ports (DTCMs) that provide simultaneous and parallel 32-bit data accesses to real-time data. Both instruction TCM and data TCM — used for efficient access to on-chip Flash and external resources — must have the same size.

4. System RAM and TCM

System RAM, also known as general RAM, is employed for communications stacks related to networking, field buss, high-bandwidth bridging, USB, etc. It implements peripheral data buffers generally through direct memory access (DMA) engines and can be accessed by masters without CPU intervention.

Here, product developers must remember the memory access conflicts that arise from the concurrent data transfer to both CPU and DMA. So developers must set clear priorities for latency-critical requests from the peripherals and carefully plan latency-critical data transfers like the transfer of a USB descriptor or a slow data rate peripheral with a small local buffer. Access from the DMA and the caches are generally burst to consecutive addresses to optimize system performance.

It’s worth noting that while system memory is logically separate from the TCM, microcontroller suppliers like Atmel are incorporating TCM and system RAM in a single SRAM block. That lets IoT developers share general-purpose tasks while splitting TCM and system RAM functions for specific use cases.

A single SRAM block for TCM and system memory allows higher flexibility and utilization

A single SRAM block for TCM and system memory allows higher flexibility and utilization.

5. TCM Loading

The Cortex-M7 uses a scattered RAM architecture to allow the MCU to maximize performance by having a dedicated RAM part for critical tasks and data transfer. The TCM might be loaded from a number of sources, and these sources aren’t specified in the M7 architecture. It’s left to the MCU designers whether there is a single DMA or several data loading points from various streams like USB and video.

It’s imperative that, during the software build, IoT product developers identify which code segments and data blocks are allocated to the TCM. This is done by embedding programs into the software and by applying linker settings so that software build appropriately places the code in memory allocation.

6. Why SRAM?

Flash memory can be attached to a TCM interface, but the Flash cannot run at the processor clock speed and will require caching. As a result, this will cause delays when cache misses occur, threatening the deterministic value proposition of the TCM technology.

DRAM technology is a theoretical choice but it’s cost prohibitive. That leaves SRAM as a viable candidate for fast, direct and uncached TCM access. SRAM can be easily embedded on a chip and permits random accesses at the speed of the processor. However, cost-per-bit of SRAM is higher than Flash and DRAM, which means it’s critical to keep the size of the TCM limited.

Atmel | SMART Cortex-M7 MCUs

Take the case of Atmel’s SMART SAM E70, S70 and V70/71 microcontrollers that organize SRAM into four memory banks for TCM and System SRAM parts. The company has recently started shipping volume units of its SAM E70 and S70 families for the IoT and industrial markets, and claims that these MCUs provide 50 percent better performance than the closest competitor.

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Atmel’s M7-based microcontrollers offer up to 384KB of embedded SRAM that is configurable as TCM or system memory for providing IoT designs with higher flexibility and utilization. For instance, E70 and S70 microcontrollers organize 384KB of embedded SRAM into four ports to limit memory access conflicts. These MCUs allocate 256KB of SRAM for TCM functions — 128 KB for ITCM and DTCM each — to deliver zero wait access at 300MHz processor speed, while the remaining 128KB of SRAM can be configured as system memory running at 150MHz.

However, the availability of an SRAM block organized in the form of a memory bank of 384KB means that both system SRAM and TCM can be used at the same time.The large on-chip SRAM of 384KB is also critical for many IoT devices, since it enables them to run multiple communication stacks and applications on the same MCU without adding external memory. That’s a significant value proposition in the IoT realm because avoiding external memories lowers the BOM cost, reduces the PCB footprint and eliminates the complexity in the high-speed PCB design.

Zymbit wants to accelerate IoT development


Get your real-world Internet of Things ideas to market in days, not months. 


As the next frontier of the Internet approaches, the IoT represents a compelling opportunity across a staggering array of applications. That’s why the team behind Zymbit has developed an end-to-end platform of hardware and software devices that will enable Makers, engineers and developers alike to transform their ideas into real-world products in blistering speed.

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In an effort to deliver secure, open and interactive gadgets for our constantly-connected era, Zymbit is hoping that latest set of solutions will help accelerate adoption and interface with our physical world in a more secure, authenticated manner. The company — who we had the chance to meet at CES 2015 and will be on display in our Maker Faire booth — recently unveiled its Zymbit 1 (Z1), which is being billed as the first fully-integrated piece of IoT hardware that provide users with local and remote live data interaction, along with a low-power MCU, battery-backed operation.

“Z1’s motherboards incorporate some of the latest secure silicon from Atmel, providing accelerated processing of standard open security algorithms. A separate supervisor MPU takes care of security, while you take care of your application,” explained Zymbit CTO Alex Kaay.

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Based on the Atmel | SMART SAM D21, the Z1 motherboard is electronically robust with enhanced security provided via an ATECC108 crypto engine and an ATWINC1500 Wi-Fi controller — meaning, no additional parts are necessary. Ideal for those developing next-gen IoT projects, the modular board is super customizable and compatible with Atmel Xplained Pro wingboards, Arduino shields, Raspberry Pi B+, as well as ZigBee, cellular and POE options. The Zymbit team has even implemented discretely controlled blocks to simplify coding and to secure remote device management, while advanced power management supports battery, solar and POE operations.

The Z1 integrates all of the key components required to support a generation of global IoT applications. This includes easily transitioning between Arduino, Atmel and Raspberry Pi designs, integrated open software tools for seamless innovation, as well as a choice of wireless communication. For instance, Makers can design and implement their programs using the Zymbit’s Arduino Zero app processor and take advantage of a vast number of Arduino shields. Or, developers can connect their Raspberry Pi to utilize the various Zymbit services via SPI bus, allowing their B+ module to interact with a wide-range of “things.”

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The unique Zymbit architecture delivers three key pillars of security: authenticated data source with 72-bit ID serial number, protected data transmission with SHA 256 and private data transmission via a Wi-Fi embedded AES engine. This is accomplished through a dedicated hardware crypto engine that ensures only trusted data is exchanged between devices.

At the heart of Z1’s operation lies a network/Linux CPU, the Atmel | SMART SAMA5D4 MPU, tasked with its secure communication. Meanwhile, its security processes run within a supervisory, ultra low-power Atmel | SMART SAM L21 MCU, separately from its SAM D21 Cortex-M0+ I/O application MCU. This hardware is all housed inside a dynamically-constructed case, which features standard expansions and mounts perfect for any consumer, commercial or industrial applicable IoT product.

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Adding to its already impressive list of capabilities, Zymbit comes with a remote manager that makes it easy to connect and manage gizmos both securely and with transparency. This service enables users to SSH to their devices, whether they are on your desk or across the country. Publishing through Zymbit’s Pub/Sub Engine lets developers collect and share data one-to-one or one-to-many, with or without subscriber authentication. As you can imagine, this opens up an assortment of project possibilities, which range from changing Philips Hue color lighting with data streams to monitoring key parameters of a refrigeration system.

“We are providing some standard dashboard widgets that allow you to quickly view your device performance metrics and data-channels. Initially we are supporting time series charting, together with plugin metrics for Raspberry Pi, and Arduino Yún,” the team writes.

Interested in learning more? You can stay up-to-date with the Zymbit team’s progress here, watch our latest interview with one of the company’s co-founders below, and swing by our booth at Maker Faire Bay Area!

Henri wants to help designers create ambient UIs for smart devices


This interactive gizmo is making it easier for designers to explore the ambient UIs of tomorrow’s gadgets. 


Smart devices will undoubtedly continue to proliferate over the coming years. With billions of these connected gizmos expected to hit the market and ultimately make their way into our homes, this leaves one important question: How do you communicate with an Internet-enabled appliance when it doesn’t have a screen? Think about it: Your toothbrush. Your robotic vacuum. Your cooking utensils. Typically speaking, these sort of items emit luminescent cues that are used to catch your attention only when in need of a battery charge or some sort of malfunction. That’s exactly the conundrum design firm Method has set out to solve with what they’re calling Henri.

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“[At the moment], there isn’t an easy way to design that. You need someone with fairly strong programming skills,” Daniel Nacamuli, Method’s lead interaction designer explains.

Instead, Henri is an interactive gadget that wants to make it easier for designers to explore the ambient user interfaces of IoT devices. The device has been developed to function as an abstract stand-in for a connected home product such your smart lights, thermostats or locks. Housed in a wooden enclosure, the system is comprised of a central box, two control panels and a desktop user interface. The main console is packed with an Atmel based Arduino, a round set of LED lights, and a built-in speaker.

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Two control panels of steel knobs are linked to Henri, enabling users (even without any sort of coding background) to easily experiment with enchanted interface elements. With just a few turn of its dials, designers can devise a wide-range of patterns of lights and sounds with varying pulses, hues, intensities and durations (zero to 16 seconds), as well as watch them play back in real-time on its central hub.

The Arduino is tasked with recording the sequence and relaying it back to the desktop interface for storage. The main box also syncs with synthesizers so users can simultaneously create sound cues. Later, Henri can reprogram all of this into the final piece of hardware.

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Additionally, Henri will certainly come in handy for designers across a plethora of industries like gaming. “You could use the controller to fine tune animation on a screen. Say your animation is of the sun setting and that sun is going to move down. Normally they’ll use some animation software with a timeline. What could feel more natural, is to turn the dial on the Henri, to turn the speed,” Nacamuli tells Wired. 

This interactive device is merely one component of Method’s overall efforts to raise awareness around the design of ambient user interfaces for the Internet of Things. The firm unveiled the Henri box as part of a workshop earlier this year in its Bay Area office during San Francisco’s IxDA conference. There, attendees were paired in teams and asked to program light and sound patterns on the Henri to communicate test scenarios.

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“After initial brainstorming, it was clear we could use this opportunity to solve a set of problems and roadblocks that have inhibited us from designing non-screen based products in our own practice,” the team writes. “Henri allows those concepts to be tested real-time, and enhance the overall capabilities of both the designer and the product. It helped people literally think outside of the box, and be productive while playing.”

Intrigued? Head over to the project’s case study here.

Report: Smart home devices have security flaws


Connected home devices like cameras and thermostats can be easy targets for hackers, cybersecurity firm explains. 


With a new breach seemingly every day, consumers are more on-guard than ever before when it comes to ensuring the security of their personal information from cyber criminals. And, rightfully so. Validating the cause for such concerns is a new report from Synack that highlights the ease in which malicious hackers can access a majority of smart home devices on the market today. Quite ironically, many of them are security gadgets — the same products that are supposed to keep you protected.

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Writing for Gigaom, Stacey Higginbotham notes that the firm had conducted an in-depth analysis on a number of today’s most-popular smart home gadgets, including cameras, thermostats, smoke detectors and automation controllers. Upon reviewing 16 of these devices, researchers discovered a vast majority of them possess some serious vulnerabilities.

Colby Moore, a security analyst for Synack, told Gigaom that it took him only 20 minutes to break into all but one of the assorted devices during testing. Furthermore, the company believes the lack of security for such products could derive from the fact that there are no set standards for smart home security.

“Right now the internet of things is like computer security was in the ‘90s, when everything was new and no one had any security standards or any way to monitor their devices for security,” Moore says.

Upon finishing the investigation, Synack found the worst performing devices to be, in fact, connected cameras. Each of the five camera products examined had issues either with encryption or password security. As for thermostats, Nest was deemed to be the most secure, although it did lose points for a weak password policy. Others were cited for having problems with password policies, encryption and a long history of flaws across product lines.

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Meanwhile, a number of smoke and carbon dioxide detectors didn’t fare so well either. The analyst reveals that this category could fall victim to a supply chain-based attack, meaning someone could intercept the device and change a component.

Lastly, a few of the home controllers are believed to have issues with exposed service and insecure architecture, while others lack proper password policies as well. In all, Moore shares with Gigaom that the security of smart home devices today is “abysmal.” He suggests users hardwire as many devices as possible, enable automatic firmware updates and utilize strong passwords.

“Smart homes are a dumb idea if they are not secure. And that means secure at every node,” Atmel resident security expert Bill Boldt chimed in on the matter. “Who wants a home that allows people to monitor them? There is already a website out there showing pictures of people intercepted from their own home security cameras. That is just the top of the iceberg. Nodes of all types from thermostats to cameras, to meters, appliances need to be authenticated and encrypted. Consumers will soon figure that out and demand it.”

Interested in reading more? Head over to Gigaom’s entire writeup. You can also discover how to add enhanced authentication and encryption into your next design here.

Internet of Things value creation requires net neutrality


Kaivan Karimi, Atmel VP and GM of Wireless Solutions, explains how neutrality is the only way to bring next-gen service providers to the IoT table.


While it has now become the common understanding of the technology community that the Internet of Things (IoT) will impact every aspect of our lives and create massive value by improving processes and conserving resources, no one has started pointing at specifically how this whole “value creation” will happen, and how will it get managed? When GE talks about the addition of over $17-$30T dollars to the GDP of the world because of IoT, from where does that money come? Is it just because we connect a bunch of gadgets inside our homes to talk to each other? Really?

From my perspective, true IoT value is created through managed services, where a new generation of service providers will come to the table and offer differentiated services that do not exist today. Since everyone can, in one way or another, relate to “in-house IoT,” the best home automation has become the battle ground d’jour. Here’s an old cartoon that I had used a few years back to point at new generation of service providers that soon will be servicing your connected home.

Slide1

In order for this vision to take place, it requires common open systems that can be leveraged by the new generation of service providers, regardless of who initially installed those boxes and gadgets. The same goes for the “connectivity pipes” linking the home to these services providers in the cloud, which also needs to be open for access by these new service providers. In other words, broadband access “pipes” need to become open and shared between the service providers other than the current ISP sitting at the table. This isn’t any different than today one using HuluPlus services to what movies, except instead of HuluPlus pumping content to your television, it will be your new “home automation” service provider monitoring your connected home and smart gadgets to reduce your energy consumption, improve your quality of life, alert you of an appliance malfunction before it happens, in addition to a number of other useful services that’ll surely save you money and improve your quality of life (create value).

In advance of the new service providers coming to the table, current ISP providers decided that they can block and favor certain broadband traffic, over other ones. Those of you who have attended my IDTechEx classes or other conferences know, that for most part, there will be minimal traffic going to the cloud for command and control types of applications. So, it is not about the amount of traffic, but rather pipe owners (ISP providers) wanting a bigger piece of the pie by denying the new services providers equal access. In reality, an open system with the ability for new content and service providers offering new services without asking for permission from ISP gate keepers will enable the innovation that we are and will be experiencing in a bigger way in the future.

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For this, we need regulatory safeguards to protect against the risk that ISP/broadband providers favoring some Internet traffic over others, and become self appointed gate keepers. At the same time, heavy-handed regulations can stifle innovation in other ways and actually interfere with legitimate network management. Subsequently, there must be a balance and both sides need to come to the table to establish that equilibrium. This requires the U.S. government to force ISP/Broadband providers to play ball. From an IoT perspective, that’s what net neutrality debate is all about.

On November 10, 2014, President Barack Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify broadband Internet access service under Title II of the Communications Act. To decode the language, it means to reclassify broadband as a utility (note that nowadays, in most markets you have choices on whom your electricity service provider can be and are not stuck with just one provider like the old days). When I was at CES a few weeks ago I heard that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had announced that his office will vote on an official proposal for net neutrality on February 26th.

“We’re going to circulate it to the commissioners on February 5th and vote on it February 26th,” Wheeler told CEA President Gary Shapiro in a public interview. When Shapiro asked him about Title II, Wheeler talked about the need to find a balance between the allowances for innovation, while incentivizing the ISPs’ continued investment in broadband. In the past, the FCC has also addressed hybrid approaches to this problem.

“We’re going to propose rules that say that no blocking, no throttling, paid prioritization, all that list of issues, and that there is a yardstick against which behavior should be measured,” Wheeler added at CES. “And that yardstick is ‘just and reasonable.’”

Let’s go back to early 2000 and that generation of smartphones on closed platforms, as well as the few apps that were supported. When Apple opened iOS for apps developers, a whole new world of applications were created. After Google opened Android further in 2008, we’ve ended up with over 130,000 applications, with lots of folks hooked on them. In fact, just a few years ago, if you would have asked them about those apps, they would have no idea that they would be hooked on them upon using them. I am not asking that we need over 130,000 service providers at your home, but we definitely need more than the single broadband provider we currently have.

The bottom line is that net neutrality is the only way to open up the existing “closed system,” and to bring a new generation of IoT service providers to the table. This will lead to more choices, which will spur more innovations, which in turn will bring in more service providers. As a result, the cycle of IoT innovation will progress and create tangible value through new service provisions.

Interested in reading more insightful pieces from Kaivan Karimi? You can do so here.

Report: 37% of U.S. households will buy a smart device in 2015


“Things” are just heating up! Ownership and usage of connected devices is growing among U.S. broadband households.


Following CES 2015, it’s clearer than ever that connected devices are infiltrating households throughout the U.S. and abroad. And, according to IoT research from Parks Associates, ownership and usage of these smart gadgets are about to soar over the next year.

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So much so that 37% of American broadband households intend to buy at least one smart device in 2015. The latest report also reveals that nearly one-quarter (26%) of these homes already have a streaming device, with 34% owning a smart TV and 16% a smart home appliance.

“This year will feature expansion of the smart home and further refinement of business strategies in these markets,” explained Tom Kerber, Parks Associates’ Director of Research. “As we saw at CES last week, companies from previously separate channels are now competing in the smart home ecosystem, meaning both differentiation and cross-platform interoperability are critical to success.”

Fresh on the heels of CES 2015, we’ve also gathered some of our favorite, most noteworthy IoT devices from the show floor.

10 technologies that will make the IoT a reality


Gizmos and gadgets a-plenty, whozits and whatzits galore. Internet of Thingamabobs?


The Internet of Things (IoT) is being hailed as the next big area of growth. While the specific predictions vary, the number of electronic devices connecting to the web is anticipated to increase dramatically, with the IoT representing tens of billions of devices in just the next several years. Evident by the sheer volume of products on display at International CES, 2015 will undoubtedly be the year where we see our homes, cars, jewelry and just about everything else get smarter. As the world around us goes online, The Telegraph has highlighted the 10 technologies that will make the IoT a reality.

Smart Energy

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Energy management was one of the original focuses of Internet of Things development, with smart thermostats like Google Nest, Hive, Tado and Honeywell offering systems that allow home owners to adjust their temperature and hot water settings from a smartphone. Some of these systems are also capable of learning a user’s habits and adjusting settings to fit the inhabitant’s preferences.

Smart Lighting

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Smart lighting systems like Philips Hue allow users to adjust the color and brightness of the lighting in their home from a smartphone, according to their mood. Similar lighting systems from companies like LG can also be programmed to act as an alarm clock, for example, gradually getting brighter from a chosen time in the morning, or flashing when the user receives a phone call.

Connected Appliances

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Being able to control home appliances while on-the-go has become a huge area of growth for the Internet of Things. One company that has already made a big splash in 2015 is Whirlpool, whose futuristic kitchen will allow a suite of devices to communicate with one another. This includes turning on the oven, adjusting the temperature, being informed when food is about to spoil and suggesting what to make for dinner — all via smartphone. Then, there are smaller appliances like Belkin’s WeMo crockpot and Smarter’s Wi-Fi coffee machine that make prepping a meal or brewing a cup o’ joe remotely easier than ever.

Smart Security

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Today, mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular choices for both identity management and access control. Take for example, Goji Smart Locks which bypass the need for keys, allowing users to gain access into a home with the simple tap of a smartphone or electronic fob, and get a text when the locks are activated. Or, August Smart Locks that enable homeowners to send a virtual key to anyone they choose. Meanwhile, devices like the Bluesmart suitcase not only can be unlocked from a mobile device, but automatically locks itself when its built-in proximity sensors detect it is no longer near a user’s side. Other startups gaining mainstream notoriety in this area include BeON Burglar Deterrent that can give off the impression of a lived-in home, as well as Novi Security DIY system that can sense smoke and motion, send photo notifications and monitor homes in real-time.

Driverless Cars

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The IoT isn’t just about making things inside homes and adorned to wrists smarter, but those in cars as well. Google recently kickstarted consumer interest in self-driving cars, when it began testing its driverless vehicles in Silicon Valley. Since then, Mercedes, Audi and BMW have all announced their own self-driving car prototypes — many of which can be controlled using smartphone and in some cases, even smartwatches, as exhibited at CES.

Self-Tending Gardens

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Nothing’s worse than watching plants die as a result of pure forgetfulness or laziness. Luckily, the IoT is blossoming in the agricultural world. In fact, a number of brands are assisting growers care for their plants — automatically. Parrot’s Flower Power H20 autonomously waters pots using exactly the right amount of water at exactly the right time, while also dishing out some personalised advice through its companion mobile app. Meanwhile, Edyn’s smart garden system monitors and tracks environmental conditions, helping users make their mini nursery flourish.

Wearables

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Wearable devices are often thought of as separate from the Internet of Things, but the health and fitness data from these gadgets is increasingly being fed back into the wider network. Jawbone’s Up tracker can monitor sleep patterns and set smartphone alarms to go off at the optimal time, based on a body’s natural sleep cycle. The TomTom Runner GPS watch helps improve runs, while the Huawei TalkBand B1 combines the functionality of both a fitness tracker and Bluetooth headset in one.

Drones

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Drones are also often put in a category of their own, but beyond being amusing toys, they could also form an integral part of the IoT. At CES, anti-collision UAVs demonstrated the wide-range of applications for autonomous navigation, whereas brands like Amazon and DHL have already explored the use of drones for real-time deliveries.

Smart Cities

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In order for the IoT to truly come to fruition, connectivity has to transcend well beyond just the devices we use, and instead, become integrated into the environment around us. From sensor-networked traffic lights that adjust their wait time based on congestion levels to digitally-monitored parking spaces that can fluctuate prices based on space availability, cities are becoming smarter by the day.

Intelligent Networks

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At its core, tomorrow’s smarter world will require intelligent networking technologies, like ZigBee and 5G, to ensure that this infrastructure will be fast yet affordable enough to support the influx of connected devices. Only when this is in place will the Internet of Things become a reality.


Are you ready to integrate connectivity into your next design? Explore the necessary building blocks for broad market adoption here.