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Objects communicate wirelessly, sip picoamps.

The smart connected objects at the heart of the Internet of Things (IoT) are permeating the gamut of consumer and industrial application areas. The objects may differ substantially in many ways across the applications in which they serve, but they all need to communicate, and they all need to operate at low power levels. During the first half of this year, test-equipment makers have introduced products or engaged in initiatives to ensure IoT devices perform properly.

Networks of networks

The proliferation of the IoT--spanning consumer as well as industrial applications--is resulting in "networks of networks of connected devices," said Jim McGillivary, general manager of RF and Component Solutions at Tektronix, in a recent interview. The number of connected devices has surpassed the number of people in the world and will reach 50 billion by 2020, representing 6.58 devices per person. Applications include vehicle, asset, person, and pet monitoring and control; agriculture automation; security and surveillance; building management; M2M and wireless sensor networking; smart cities; and telemedicine and healthcare.

In a recent phone interview, Alan Wadsworth, market development manager for Keysight Technologies' Hachioji Semiconductor Test Division, elaborated on IoT market predictions spanning the consumer and industrial spaces, commenting on wearables and connected homes, cars, and cities as well as applications involving healthcare, manufacturing, energy, transportation, and agriculture. He cited Gartner research forecasting IoT-related revenues in 2020: $262 billion for apps and analytics, $18 billion for computation and storage, $17 billion for communications, and $21 billion for the "things" themselves.

Keysight, he said, offers several tools for IoT design and test, addressing design simulation and verification, signal generation and analysis, functional and RF design validation, multiformat design validation and manufacturing, and battery and current-drain characterization.

The company's latest entry--the CX3300 device current waveform analyzer (Figure 1)--addresses this last space. Wadsworth described it as a new class of instrument allowing engineers to visualize low-level current waveforms never seen before.

Current consumption is a key concern for battery-powered IoT and M2M devices and wearables, he said, with engineers wanting to understand how different factors affect current consumption. Typically, they use an oscilloscope in conjunction with a shunt resistor or scope current probe to measure active-state current and a multimeter to measure sleep /standby current--a cumbersome two-instrument approach.

He described what he called the low-current waveform-measurement dilemma. "Noise and limited bandwidth prohibit quantitative evaluation," he said, with expected waveforms not looking like measured waveforms. "As a result, it is quite difficult to analyze current profiles in detail." Further, he said, even 12-bit scopes can lack the necessary resolution and may not have sufficient bandwidth to measure transients.

The two- and four-channel CX3300 instruments overcome these limitations, he said. They offer 150-pA to 10-A current ranges, 200-MHz bandwidths with 1-GHz sample rates, 14-bit or 16-bit resolution, and 256-megapoint/channel memory size.

The 'Interference of Things'

Tektronix's recent initiatives in the IoT space have focused on wireless functionality. The IoT is accompanied by more than 20 wireless standards plus proprietary protocols, McGillivary said, requiring that engineers face a quickly growing need to acquire RF design expertise. In addition, they face shrinking time-to-market windows, an increasing number of projects, and shrinking budgets for each project. Further, the expanding number of RF-capable devices presents spectrum management challenges--or the "Interference of Things," as McGillivary put it. Challenges also center on installation and maintenance, signal characterization, and documentation.

IoT engineers, McGillivary said, are following different RF workflows than traditional RF experts, who typically shared high-end instrumentation. IoT designers tend to use precertified RF modules to minimize the need for testing. In 2000, spectrum analyzers costing more than $30,000 accounted for more than half of spectrum analyzers sold. That had shrunk to half by 2005, and although the expensive instruments still account for a substantial plurality of instruments sold, the popularity of instruments costing less than $15,000 is increasing as they become attractive to customers unwilling to pay a premium for high-end instruments and as the low-cost models offer sufficient performance for IoT test needs.

To address today's test challenges, McGillivary said, Tektronix is transitioning from a product-centric hardware company to an application-focused technology company. For RF test in particular, the company recently released two new series of USB spectrum analyzers. They build on the company's RSA306 upgraded to the RSA306B, which incorporates 10-dB better spurious performance and improved amplitude accuracy.

The brand new analyzers include the RSA500A for field RF test and the RSA600A for lab wireless applications. All make use of SignalVu software (Figure 2), which comes with 17 free measurement apps. The field instruments, said Varun Merchant, technical marketing manager, help users scan for, classify, and locate interfering signals and handle installation and maintenance chores. The lab models help engineers imagine, design, troubleshoot, and ensure wireless standards compliance and EMI Drecompliance, he said.

Storage for the IoT

For its part, Rohde & Schwarz has been addressing embedded multimedia cards (eMMC), the inexpensive internal storage media that mainly are used in mobile electronic devices in the consumer and industrial sectors, including mobile phones, tablets, GPS devices, and e-readers as well as in industrial electronic applications involving processor units and for IoT applications.

In March, Rohde & Schwarz announced it has expanded the functional range of its R&S RTO oscilloscope with the new R&S RTO-K92 eMMC compliance test software (Figure 3). The software option offers automated eMMC interface compliance tests in line with the current JEDEC standard version 5.1, covering the HS400 as well as HS200 speed class.

With its new debugging and compliance test option, Rohde & Schwarz said it is addressing manufacturers of eMMC chips as well as developers and manufacturers of circuits and products that use these chips. The compliance test supports users when debugging signal integrity problems at the eMMC storage interface.

Like other compliance test tools from Rohde & Schwarz, the R&S RTO-K92 also is included in the R&S ScopeSuite. A wizard guides the user through all the test steps. New control elements make the R&S ScopeSuite easy to use and provide flexibility when defining and designing tests. When the tests are finished, users can generate a detailed report for documentation purposes.

The Industrial IoT

National Instruments takes a look specifically at the industrial aspect of the IoT in its Trend Watch 2016, which states, "The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) promises a world of smarter, hyper-connected devices and infrastructure where electrical grids, manufacturing machines, and transportation systems are outfitted with embedded sensing, processing, control, and analysis capabilities." (1)

Industrial applications, the Trend Watch states, require bounded, low-latency data transfer for time-critical data, and industrial suppliers, IT vendors, and silicon providers are collaborating to update standard Ethernet protocols to a next-generation standard called Time-Sensitive Networking, or TSN. TSN will address bandwidth, security, interoperability, latency, and synchronization.

NI, which makes IIoT software and hardware platforms, announced in February a collaboration with the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and industry leaders Bosch Rexroth, Cisco, Intel, KUKA, Schneider Electric, and TTTech to develop a TSN testbed. NI said these organizations aim to advance the network infrastructure to support the future of the IIoT and Industry 4.0. NI said the testbed will perform several functions:

* combine different critical control traffic such as Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) and best-effort traffic flows on a single, resilient network based on IEEE 802.1 TSN standards;

* demonstrate TSN's real-time capability and vendor interoperability using standard, converged Ethernet;

* assess the security value of TSN and provide feedback on the capability to secure initial TSN functions;

* show capability for the IIoT to incorporate high-performance and latency-sensitive applications; and

* deliver integration points for smart real-time edge cloud-control systems into the IIoT infrastructure and applications.

"Testbeds are a major focus and activity of the IIC and its members," said Dr. Richard Soley, executive director of the IIC, at the time of the announcement. "Our testbeds are where the innovation and opportunities of the industrial Internet--new technologies, new applications, new products, new services, and new processes--can be initiated, thought through, and rigorously tested to ascertain their usefulness and viability before coming to market."

Company participants in the initiative weighed in as well. "The new IIC TSN testbed is an opportunity for KUKA to work with other industry leaders to prove standard technology for distributed real-time control systems as needed for edge cloud computing, also known as 'fog computing,"' said Christian Schloegel, chief technology officer of the KUKA group. "We view TSN, combined with OPC UA publish/subscribe, as a core element to implement Industry 4.0 standards."

"We are excited to host the new IIC TSN testbed," concluded Eric Starkloff, NTs executive vice president of global sales and marketing. "TSNs are a critical attribute of a standard Internet model that enables the convergence of real-time control applications and devices onto open, interconnected networks. This technology is necessary for the future of the IIoT, and the IIC is providing a community, as well as enabling real-world testbeds, where industry leaders can collaborate to make this a reality." EE

The 'Interface of Things'

Smart objects need to communicate with each other or the cloud, and many need to interface with humans as well. To that end, Heptagon, which offers imaging, sensing, and illumination solutions for the IoT and smart devices, demonstrated its approach to mobile iris scanning at the Mobile World Congress in February in Barcelona. The demo leveraged IriTech's iris recognition algorithms and software as well as Heptagon's newly launched UEYE mobile imaging demo platform and showed a complete solution for unlocking a smartphone, tablet, PC, or any IoT product. The technology also could complement fingerprint sensors.

In an interview at Heptagon's Silicon Valley headquarters before the Mobile World Congress, Dr. Erik Volkerink, chief business officer, described the company's strategy for what he called the "Internet of Things 2.0." Whereas IoT 1.0 embraced machine-to-machine connectivity, he said, "I believe IoT 2.0 is more about interfacing between machines and humans in a very intuitive fashion and using artificial intelligence to understand people. It's about multimodal human interactions--including voice and gestures." He added, "When I speak, I use my hands as well as my voice."

Issues surrounding IoT 1.0 and M2M have largely been addressed, Volkerink said. Cautioning that he didn't want to trivialize M2M technical challenges, he acknowledged that there still are battles to be fought with multiple players. Yet surveillance of the battlefield suggests it's somewhat clear where M2M technology is headed.

In contrast, he said, "I think the human-interfacing piece now is still chaotic. It's basically where the machine-to-machine piece was five years ago." In addition to challenges analogous to the development of IoT 1.0 and M2M technologies, IoT 2.0 and M2H will increasingly take advantage of "... a lot of new technologies in artificial intelligence and deep learning that can help create intuitive M2H experiences as well as new miniaturization and integration technologies to bring this to consumers," he said.

"The human-machine link right now is very primitive-- it's not very multimodal," Volkerink said. The voice-recognition engineers and computer-vision engineers are doing great work solving their respective problems, he added, but the supply chain is very diverse: you buy a microphone from one company, an image sensor from another, and an accelerometer from yet another. Citing software, he said, "I think a whole new software stack is not about how to connect to the Internet--it's about artificial intelligence, deep learning, computer vision, and matching the heterogeneous hardware integration capabilities of 'More than Moore's law,"' with the largest portion of artificial intelligence investments over the past year occurring in the area of computer vision. "I think it's still very single-modal right now," he said, "but I think the company that can tie all of those things together and drive the 'Interface of Things' is going to win."


(1.) "It's About Time: Evolving Network Standards for the Industrial IoT," NI Trend Watch 2016, Dec. 1, 2015.

By Rick Nelson, Executive Editor
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Author:Nelson, Rick
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Date:Jun 1, 2016
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