Kontron: A long history of embedded systems for the future of the Internet of Things

Jens-W Jens Wiegand, Kontron’s CTO

The momentum of the Internet of Things is growing strongly and its transformative power starts to appear clear to many industries. Certainly, there are challenges to be faced in terms of technologies and business models, but the Internet of Things (IoT) industry is committed to unveiling the enormous potential of the IoT vision. Saverio Romeo of Beecham Research has visited one of those players, Kontron.

With headquarters in Augsburg, Kontron is a global developer and manufacturer of embedded computer technology. Kontron offers a wide range of hardware elements at the edge and gateways integrated with software solutions and an open ecosystem of applications developers. It is also present in the cloud offering SYMKLOUD platform, a standards-based networking platform providing scalability, high density and work load performance. But, in order to know more about Kontron and its approach to the IoT, we talked to Jens Wiegand, Kontron’s CTO.

Saverio Romeo: The Internet of Things (IoT) vision is getting momentum in a variety of sectors. It starts to be seen as a moment of transformation for many industries. What is Kontron’s position in the IoT vision?

Jens Wiegand: Kontron is a world leader in embedded computing technology. We engineer, service and supply global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and System Integrators (SIs) in a variety of markets, including: avionics, defence, energy, industrial automation, healthcare, retail, telecom and transportation. Our broad portfolio ranges from boards and systems to platform solutions and services. When you look at the verticals we serve, as well as our product portfolio along with engineering capabilities, the attraction for Kontron to the IoT space is that it’s a natural fit. We are experts in delivering platforms and solutions that securely connect devices, meet SWaP (Size, Weight and Power) requirements and give our customers faster time-to-revenue (TTR) by helping to reduce their research & development (R&D) costs and create new business models.

SR: Currently, which are the IoT applications you are involved in?

JW: As I mentioned, Kontron serves many verticals. Our clients are mainly exploring or adopting IoT solutions. There are specific drivers for those projects with a vertical specificity. The retail segment is undergoing a complete change with the integration of brick & mortar stores and the digital shopping experience. In industrial automation, collaborative initiatives such as Industry 4.0 and new business models around asset optimisation are spurring the IoT growth. In the healthcare segment the promise of wearable sensors and the home health market will fuel the growth. In the vehicle segment; autonomous driving and farming are leveraging IoT to become reality.

SR: What is the most novel IoT service that Kontron has been involved in setting up?

JW: Kontron developed the first IoT development kit based on Intel Fish River Island. The projects range from in-flight infotainment to remote asset optimisation and intelligent farming. In the latter, soil sensors collect and report data. The system will load a fertilisation map. The agriculture vehicles, controlled by autopilot, will then do the job based on the data and the map. There are also systems designed for greenhouses where sensors measure data as humidity, moisture, EC and PH to manage the optimised amount and application of fertiliser automatically.

Kontron set up a Proof of Concept with Salesforce.com to directly integrate asset information into the cloud-based service solution. One of the most interesting applications in the medical sector was to control humidity and count flies to reduce diseases, which is cloud-based. It starts with mosquito wing beat frequency determination by intelligent image processing to identify the mosquito species, and ends with patient remote monitoring and consulting.

SR: But the IoT vision is not only exciting solutions, there are challenges to face. Which are the most important ones in your opinion?

JW: Difficulty in implementing scalability across vertical markets is an important challenge. Market fragmentation is the main root of that difficulty. The market is composed of many different vertical industries and their applications tend to have little overlap, making it difficult to scale solutions. There is also complexity and customisation requirements, as the technologies involved in creating intelligent systems are extremely broad and complex, and most solutions do not provide a seamless realtime end-to-end experience between the business backbone and the system or device domain, and thus must be customized to some degree.

Finally, the integration of different IoT architecture components is also a crucial barrier.  Interoperability in IoT is an important matter and it requires collaboration – such as Industry 4.0 and IIC – and partnerships in which Kontron strongly believes and pursues.

SR: How do you see the IoT evolving in terms of applications and impacts on sectors?

JW: Today, we are living the beginning of a long story. The IoT is a societal phenomenon, it will impact all levels of our daily life. Therefore, it will become ubiquitous from a sector perspective. For example in the utility sector, distributed energy sources such as solar and wind power approach 10% of total generated power, maintaining quality power becomes incredibly difficult without a dynamic demand mechanism to manage customer consumption in response to supply conditions at critical times, market price or demand situations. Suppliers need the ability to plan for contingencies with some margin for error given the unpredictable nature of wind and solar power. This can only be addressed by the use of intelligent devices that collect and analyse massive volumes of data. IoT monitoring and control enables the smart grid to adjust to ever-changing conditions with  higher reliability, security, and performance than ever before.

In automotive and in industrial markets, through sensors, IoT communication and real-time data  streaming, intelligent systems can send alerts when a key component needs repair. This capability increases efficiency by better managing inventory and decreasing stock costs. It also provides lots of predictive information to optimise additional processes and goods quality. In healthcare, smart M2M devices, enable through IoT architectures new sophisticated services, and applications allowing healthcare professionals to understand patients’ conditions and make accurate, timely, and realistic  recommendations. In some cases actions can be taken – insulin for diabetes, for example, or perhaps a caregiver can be alerted. There are hundreds of IoT-based healthcare service opportunities in hospitals, doctors’ offices, homes, and also on mobile applications. Vending machines can communicate via RFID for inventory replenishment, cutting the cost and inefficiency of restocking to schedule rather than need.

And those are just some examples, the only limit to the potential applications will be our creativity.

SR: We have years of changes and transformations in front of us, how is Kontron preparing for that?

JW: The process of change the IoT vision is bringing into our life and economies should be based around innovation and trust. The term IoT is often misused and misinterpreted. Our industry has to have a high level of customer intimacy in order to deliver the right solution, the one that meets the customer needs. Kontron can do that because we have worked around embedded systems for the past 20 years and we know all the challenges of embedded systems including connectivity, mobility, security and certification processes. Kontron will continue to offer to its customer base trust and knowledge and a continuous innovation flow able to always stay at the cutting edge of embedded systems.

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