Fat-free hyper-optimisation: A new strategy for efficient, low cost M2M

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

(BLOG:) — “If the history of software and operating systems (OS) has revealed one thing, it’s that each generation can be relied on to deliver a successively more complex solution. But if your M2M device performs a simple function, do you really need a fully featured OS?” asks Kurt Dykema of Twisthink.

Why pay for physical size, complexity, and hardware far beyond your requirements? In the burgeoning world of M2M, sometimes less is actually more. The need for lightweight solutions is real, and has been applied in many places; think Windows Mobile, Android and Embedded Linux, or anything automotive. Small, simple devices have a viable place within M2M technology; using an embedded, real-time operating system (RTOS) to simplify code development makes it quite feasible.

The strategy to unlock small, hyper-optimised M2M reflects what’s become the norm in automotive applications; here’s what we can learn from their ‘micro’ model.

Most of what’s being applied in M2M today comes from the world of IT — a world of computer networks, PCs and enterprise servers. When IT people want devices or sensors to talk or network together, they immediately default to a Windows box or a Linux box.

On a car, however, cost and space are critical issues, and the only hardware you’re allowed to use is what you absolutely need. You wouldn’t expect PC capability in your key fob; why do you need it in your M2M device?

Fat-free hyper-optimised M2M

Rather than employ an operating system such as Linux or Windows, why not open the M2M door to smaller, simpler, lower cost devices with a much smaller, fewer-featured application based on simple microcontrollers and real-time operating systems such as FreeRTOS. FreeRTOS is a development platform for microcontrollers; this tool (which supports 33 different architectures of microcontrollers) and others like it offer a convenient way to develop firmware, separating hardware-related tasks from the logic of the application. In lieu of a PC environment with drivers and application space and file management, a free RTOS environment is very lean and optimised.

Developers and engineers can leverage such a tool for applications that need small, simple, low-cost monolithic code going into a device that does exactly what you want it to do; no more, no less. In short, it’s hyper-optimized.

We see tremendous potential for employing this strategy, including applications such as battery-operated sensor monitoring, remote connectivity to medical equipment and industrial machines, industrial lighting control, and irrigation control.

Let’s return to our automotive example: the industry consumes large quantities of microcontrollers with an extensive range of costs and capabilities. As indicated earlier, however, for a given device the engineers design-in only what they need, and suppliers compete to see who can do the most with the smallest resources. Whether designing an engine control module or an electronic compass, a ‘right sized’ microcontroller is available.

Could your M2M opportunity benefit from a smaller, cheaper device? Would owning the design give you a competitive advantage — and allow you to harvest additional value?

Optimising M2M RoI

If you’re answering “yes,” it’s time to take a closer look at how to determine whether or not your M2M investment might look better through the lens of “Honey, I shrunk the kids”. Sometimes smaller is better.

Your questions regarding particular M2M areas or items are welcome. Email: kurt (at) twisthink.com

Kurt_Dykema, Twisthink
Kurt Dykema

Kurt Dykema, is director of Technology, Twisthink LLC, based in Holland, Michigan. He has 20+ years’ industrial design and engineering experience and holds 20 US patents. An engineering graduate (BSE – Calvin College, MSE – University of Michigan), Dykema spent 10 years working on automotive interior products before launching the company that later became Twisthink. Dykema and his Twisthink teams collaborate with a wide range of global and regional corporations, providing specialised expertise in wireless technology, sensors and signal processing, remote systems, motor control and embedded systems. Twisthink has interests in housewares, healthcare and sports technology, as well as numerous commercial and industrial applications.

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