What's in your library?
Welcome to the expanding universe of Internet of Things connectivity. If you're like most engineers, you are forever on the lookout for fresh ideas and smart solutions. You have or are building your library of technical papers, documents, data sheets, products, technologies, standards, and applications for future and handy reference. Smart move.
This blog, which begins in these columns today, is inspired by my years as a reporter and technology watcher, wherein I love to explore, discover, and now connect readers who face the greatest design challenges of the day with helpful and useful resources. Are you trying to figure out how to deal with Internet of Things challenges like—low-power micro-computing, signal conditioning, wireless communications, sensors, actuator control, more efficient power sources and the man-machine interface? Think of this blog as a design roadmap: as I discover and pass along useful resources, I hope you will find them valuable enough to archive or share.
Most important: It would be great if we could collaborate and expand this ‘roadmap’ into a library resource. To do that, send me (firstname.lastname@example.org) relevant knowledge resources—as links, pdfs, other media formats—that you may have found, so that we can compile and publish them into an easily accessible, open database. That could help your peers.
Wireless technologies are perfect for transferring urgent amounts of real-time data to and from sensors and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices. But due to very severe application constraints, even the smartest wireless things have to be designed for ultra-low power operation—IoT nodes can be remote, or not easily serviceable. And they are going to be vanishingly small: Paul Saffo, director of Discern Analytics predicts, "devices are going to disappear into what we wear and carry. For example, the glasses interface will shrink to near-invisibility in conventional glasses.”
Clearly, wireless connectivity design can be daunting and requires solving the ultra low power, low cost, and physical size equation perfectly.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. First you have to sort through the acronym clutter: There’s Bluetooth LE, ANT, ANT+, ZigBee, ZigBee RF4CE, Wi-Fi, Nike+, IrDA, LoRa, and NFC, by my count. And new solutions, like Weightless-P are always coming along. This one's an ultra high-performance LPWAN connectivity that uses a narrow band modulation scheme offering bidirectional communications capability for service integrity (QoS) required for the stringent industrial IoT sector. It’s designed to offer the best compromise for the widest range of IoT applications, according to the SIG working to make it an open standard. (Download the technology white paper LPWAN technology decisions: 17 critical features).
How do you, as an engineer or designer keep up?
To try to help with this no small challenge, I’ve reviewed the current wireless literature on the web and draw your attention to a valuable resource of wireless design knowledge: Phil Smith's classic article entitled, Comparing Low-Power Wireless Technologies, that has been widely translated into many languages. The article analyzes the pros and cons of various low-power wireless technologies and even suggests technology matches for particular applications. It’s truly a keeper, in my opinion.
--Richard Wallace is a former editor in chief of EE Times. He has followed and reported on electronics, technology and design for 40 years, most recently as an independent journalist, online.