CC Blog Editor's Letter Insights

IoT in Rugged Environments

Written by Jeff Child

In late January every year, I always enjoy attending the Embedded Tech Trends (ETT) event where a selection of 15—give or take—sponsor companies from the embedded board industry get together to confab with the embedded industry’s  technology journalists. Held this year in Austin, Texas, it was a great opportunity to kick off the year with TED-talk style presentations from the vendors, and one-on-one meetings between us in the press and the sponsoring vendors. These companies are the leading makers of board- and box-level embedded computers designed for the more rugged end of the embedded spectrum—everything from transportation to factory automation to defense.

With Circuit Cellar increasing its coverage of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) in 2018 and beyond, naturally the IoT part of the discussion stood out or me—and there was good representation of that. In his presentation at ETT, Jarvis Wenger of MEN Micro exemplified the idea of IoT in a rugged environment. His talk described a high-performance edge computing system for an IoT oil field implementation. This IoT system had to function reliably even under the most adverse conditions and is currently in use on oil platforms.

The CompactPCI-based server platform is installed directly on the drilling sites and communicates with the operator’s data processing center in real time over GSM. The system relays all the data relating to the position of the drill head, resistance in the drilling mud, as well as general function and error analyses.

The server makes use of CompactPCI standard components equipped with a solid conduction-cooled aluminum frame. The components, in turn, are encased in an IP64-protected housing, also with thermally conductive properties. The transmission of data from the server platforms to the drilling sites and onward to the data processing center is encrypted by security protocols and corresponds to an end-to-end encryption.

The presentation from PICMG (PCI Industrial Manufacturers Group) at ETT focused directly on Industrial IoT as a theme. My friend Jessica Isquith, President of PICMG, gave the PICMG talk. She described how two of the primary challenges to the adoption of IIoT are a lack of standardization and the need to accommodate the legacy installed base of technologies. The need for standards, she emphasized, is a key need but one that falls right into PICMG’s strengths as a creator of open standards. Jessica described how there’s excellent standards work already being done to facilitate IIoT, but gaps exist and collaboration by interested stakeholders is vital. In terms of embedded board form factors, three PICMG standards are very well suited for IIoT: COM Express, CompactPCI Serial and MicroTCA.

Jessica outlined several efforts that PICMG is working on to fill the gaps of IIoT standardization. A standard called Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) Redfish is a growing standard for management in IT and datacenters, but it lacks any schema for industrial-specific devices. With that in mind, PICMG plans to use its capabilities and domain knowledge to craft a meta-data model for IIoT.

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Next, Jessica talked about a COM Express IIoT Developer Kit. This hardware kit to be offered by PICMG will include a carrier board with IIoT I/O break-out, examples of metadata models for common sensors and examples of I/O interface for common sensors types. Jessica believes the kit will help accelerate IIoT development and the deployment of IIoT enabled sensors.

Another solution opportunity Jessica described in her talk is a postage-stamp sized embedded board form factor specification. The idea would be a board with “just enough“ I/O and microcontroller-level processing. A postage stamp form factor will allow PICMG to extend its platform support lower into the IIoT hardware stack and enable growth in the smart sensors market. To sum up her presentation, Jessica said that, taken together, all these collaborative PICMG efforts fit into the organizations goal to make 2018 a year of significant success in IIoT.

While IoT—and even IIoT—are broad application areas with many sub-segments, it’s clear that the rugged portion of the IoT has particular challenges. It’s encouraging to see that many embedded computing vendors and organizations like PICMG are committed to help smooth the way forward. The talks mentioned here and all the of the rest of presentations from this year’s ETT are available at www.embeddedtechtrends.com

This appears in the March (332) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Editor-in-Chief at Circuit Cellar | + posts

Jeff Child has more than 28 years of experience in the technology magazine business—including editing and writing technical content, and engaging in all aspects of magazine leadership and production. He joined the Circuit Cellar after serving as Editor-in-Chief of COTS Journal for over 10 years. Over his career Jeff held senior editorial positions at several of leading electronic engineering publications, including EE Times and Electronic Design and RTC Magazine. Before entering the world of technology journalism, Jeff worked as a design engineer in the data acquisition market.