Robust ecosystems for M2M / IoT solutions

Jameel Ahed

Connected devices are central to the M2M / IoT revolution. However, each industry comes with its own set of requirements. This makes the development of such devices non-trivial.

To illustrate my point let us consider two devices:

  1. Vending machine telemetry device that can provide real time sales data. (VMT)
  2. Remote terminal units that form a part of SCADA systems used by oil and gas industries. (RTU)

Let us consider how these devices will be powered. The power for a VMT is derived from the vending machine. The vending machine is connected to the A.C supply lines and provides 24-42V DC for all the devices present within. RTUs on the other hand, are required to work in remote locations, where electrical outlets may not be available. It may need to have a rechargeable SLA, lithium ion battery etc. which provides the required power. These batteries may be charged through solar cells.

Data acquisition in the case of the VMT, deals with obtaining real time sales data from the vending machine computer. The device communicates via MDB / DEX to obtain this information. However, the RTU interfaces to other sensors through digital I/Os and / or an analog I/Os. The RTU is also expected to have some logic to convert these values into meaningful data.

The choice of the network technology for communication is obvious in the case of the VMT. The data can be sent to the client server using Wi-Fi, GSM or CDMA networks. However, the choice is not very straight forward in the case of an RTU. It could be the same as VMT if those networks are available in places where exploration operations and refineries are located. However, oil drilling happening at an off shore location may not have wireless connectivity. In such cases, other technologies such as LoRa, Sub GHz, Zigbee or sometimes wired Ethernet networks need to be used.

Last but not the least, the communication protocol used to communicate data to the server could be different. HTTP and MQTT may be great choices for the vending machine telemetry device, whereas MODBUS or proprietary protocols may be needed for the RTU.

Image-1In some cases, application software companies within the same industry may not be happy with the available solutions for their clients. For example, consider a vending operation with 100 machines. The operator may not be interested in an expensive third party POS solution just to get real time sales data. He may do that for say 10-20% of his machines and prefer to use a cheaper solution to track and monitor real time sales data from all his other machines. Moreover, the ultimate goal of installing a vending telemetry device is to improve the profit margins of the operation. The operator has to implement dynamic scheduling and dynamic routing to reduce service costs, monitor trends and generate sales ideas. He does not want to spend too much time trying to set up the devices with his software etc. He wants a tried and tested ecosystem from his VMS solution providers.

In summary, an industry specific requirement list and a customer centric approach not only needs custom connected devices, but also requires such device designers and manufacturers to partner with enterprise application software companies and network providers to provide robust ecosystems. Only such a system can ease implementation, improve results and increase the relevance of M2M / IoT products and solutions with consumers. A great example of how this can be done would be the Insight Vending machine telemetry device and Vagabond Vending’s VMS solution.

Author is Jameel Ahed is the president of Blue Sparq, Inc. located in Cape Coral, Florida, and is currently focusing on M2M / IoT product development and capacitive touch switch interfaces.  You can contact him at ahed@bluesparq.com

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