The Industrial Internet of Things FEATURE NEWS

IoT Designer Base Needs to Grow

By Special Guest
Lance Looper, Silicon Labs
February 15, 2018

One of our emerging start-up customers sees a real problem in the way new IoT devices are coming to market.

Christian Klemetsson, founder of Swedish-based DeviceRadio, believes some companies have an unusual advantage over others in the market, stifling creativity and IoT innovation for a market that has the ability to solve important problems for people all over the world. What kind of advantage? Talent. Specifically, in-house, IoT, embedded designer expertise.

Designing IoT devices from the ground up is a challenging endeavor, requiring a tremendous amount of expertise on RF, power management, security, servers, scaling, protocols, etc. Design engineers must understand all of these various technologies - and be able to hook them all up to an IoT platform, which is no easy feat. Often times embedded designers are specialists in one particular area, such as servers or RF, but to find and employ designers with the capability to work across the numerous technologies required for IoT is difficult.

This is where DeviceRadio comes in. The company first came across our radar as a customer when it started using our Bluetooth SoCs (System-on-a-Chip) solutions. Shortly afterwards, we saw the company’s product in action at the Silicon Labs and Digi-Key Corporation IoT Contest, where DeviceRadio won first prize in 2015. We ended up getting to know Christian a bit better to find out what drove him to build the product, and his story is an interesting one.

Horizontal Connectivity
But first, let’s understand what DeviceRadio built. The company created a horizontal connectivity layer of technology that sits on top of various protocols supporting IoT products, such as Wi-Fi, LoRa, Bluetooth, etc. The seamless layer removes the need for specific IoT design expertise, giving companies and designers of all backgrounds the immediate ability to build IoT products, regardless of designer expertise.

DeviceRadio started out as a hobby project for Christian less than 5 years ago. At the time, Christian, who had a hard time remembering to water his plants, kept killing them all. With a background in electronics, he decided to build some sort of solution to monitor the plants with a phone application.

After studious tinkering with a design, he soon realized building something cheap, simple, and with long battery life wasn’t an option. The solutions he found were based on technology built for other purposes. For example, Bluetooth at the time wasn’t built for IoT, only wireless peripherals. Therefore, Christian created his own radio protocol, and the end result was the first radio protocol for IoT devices. He transformed the protocol into something that could be placed on top of existing protocols, providing encryption, plug and play, abstraction, etc. The layer goes on top of whatever protocols the designer is using, be it Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 4G, etc., making everything seamless and consistent. 

Designing on the Fly
The way Christian sees it, his product is giving designers the opportunity to create something fast without thinking much about what technology to use. Designers can create a prototype on their hardware and focus entirely on the benefit and business value of the device up front, worrying about technology and scaling requirements much later on in the process. Designers have the freedom to stretch the product further without having to rewrite apps and alter code.

DeviceRadio hosts an infrastructure for customers that can be replicated and takes care of access control and gets data to the right place. The product also has a vertical communication layer serving as a software library designers can place on top of their protocol layers and hardware, leaving the worry of cloud APIs and Internet connectivity, etc.

The idea is to hide the complexity of IoT by placing a horizontal layer on top of everything, giving any company, regardless of resources, the ability to create an IoT product without relying on exclusive and hard-to-find talent.

Moving Beyond Luxury IoT
The biggest challenge Christian sees in the IoT market is awareness of what is possible. The excessive hype and confusion in the market can be a stumbling block to companies who don’t yet realize how they can use IoT to dramatically improve their service offerings. From his perspective, a lot of the IoT media attention is focused on must-have killer applications solving luxury problems, such as connecting a water bottle or something that doesn’t provide much value. Christian wants more companies to see what is possible. For instance, he recently ran across a company using IoT to save lives by building drones for emergency services, which deliver heart defibrillators in a fraction of the time as previously delivered.

Of course, plenty of cool IoT start-ups emerge every day, but the future of IoT is really more about existing companies discovering how to leverage IoT in a way that is seamless. In 5-10 years, multiple companies will be building the hardware, IoT enablement technologies, and software services and apps, allowing people to utilize products from multiple companies in ways not yet imagined.

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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