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Here's the Cure for Problems Facing the Internet of Things

Charles Murray

December 3, 2015

4 Min Read
Here's the Cure for Problems Facing the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is broken and needs ARM-based field programmable gate array (FPGA) technology to fix it, an expert told engineers at UBM's Designers of Things conference in San Jose yesterday.

Ryan Cousins, CEO of krtkl Inc. (pronounced "critical"), said that the rapid pace of development on the Internet is exposing the weaknesses of 15 billion connected products because the hardware can't keep up with the software. "If your product is connected to the Internet, the software is going to get updated every six months or every year," he said. "But the hardware is always fixed. Once it ships, it ships. You're stuck with it."

Cousins added that outdated hardware creates a window of opportunity for competitors, which can improve on it, while the original developer often lacks the wherewithal to make substantial changes.

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The solution, he said, is the use of ARM-based FPGA system-on-chips (SoCs). Products such as Xilinx's Zynq-7000 and Altera's Cyclone V intertwine the MCU and FPGA, enabling the hardware to be adaptable to market and consumer demands. In essence, software updates on such systems become hardware updates.

"When you then add connectivity to the equation, you end up with a piece of hardware that can be fundamentally changed in the field," Cousins said. "You're not stuck with what you originally shipped out the door."

Other benefits for developers include design re-use, code portability, and security. "Because the hardware architecture isn't fundamentally fixed and known to any outside parties, it becomes extremely difficult for them not only to reverse engineer but to invade and take over the product," Cousins said.

He cited examples of applications that would be well-suited for use of ARM-based FPGAs, including industrial robots, pumps for medical devices, electric motor controllers, imaging systems, and machine vision systems. He also said the field of potential applications is growing. "Traditionally, it's been relegated to things like aerospace, defense, and high-end industrial applications," Cousins said. "But lately it's been getting more democratized and affordable for the average person, whether it's an entrepreneur or a student."

He drew on krtkl's experience as an IoT hardware company to make the point that many connected products are vulnerable to the hardware-software mismatch dilemma, especially in manufacturing, healthcare, and retail settings. His company offers a flexible platform called Snickerdoodle that addresses the problem and is suited to mechatronics applications.

The use of an FPGA-based solution makes sense for the OEM, as well as the consumer, Cousins added. "You're more likely to buy a product that's relatively future-proofed going forward than you are to buy one that has to be replaced in a couple of years."

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About Designers of Things

Designers of Things is a new conference produced by UBM that is dedicated to the revolutionary potential of Wearable Tech, 3D Printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), the business strategies and inventive people behind these technologies, and how they can successfully accelerate innovation to take their inspirations to the next level. Through in-depth educational programs, ground-breaking technology demonstrations, and unmatched networking opportunities, Designers of Things offers one of the most comprehensive and impactful meeting places for the technology design and development communities in the world. The Designers of Things event will take place at the BIOMEDevice event in San Jose, Calif., Dec. 2-3. For more information, follow us on Twitter at @DoThingsCon

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

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About the Author(s)

Charles Murray

Charles Murray is a former Design News editor and author of the book, Long Hard Road: The Lithium-Ion Battery and the Electric Car, published by Purdue University Press. He previously served as a DN editor from 1987 to 2000, then returned to the magazine as a senior editor in 2005. A former editor with Semiconductor International and later with EE Times, he has followed the auto industry’s adoption of electric vehicle technology since 1988 and has written extensively about embedded processing and medical electronics. He was a winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for his story, “The Making of a Medical Miracle,” about implantable defibrillators. He is also the author of the book, The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1997. Murray’s electronics coverage has frequently appeared in the Chicago Tribune and in Popular Science. He holds a BS in engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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