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Illusive IOT About Perspective, Connectivity and (yes) Security

A panel of industry experts at the Renesas DevCon 2015 argue about IoT design challenges from device to the cloud and connectivity to security.

By John Blyler, Editorial Director, IoT Embedded Systems

Synopsis of compelling comments:

  • “Most software engineers don’t appreciate the difficulties in designing hardware – and vice versa.”
  • “IoT is a concept, not a product or a market. Its definition depends upon who you are.”
  • Adding connectivity to both new and legacy systems is tricky.
  • The answer to all IoT-related questions is “security.””
  • The medical industry almost doesn’t care how much (security) benefit the device might bring if it isn’t HEPA qualified.”
  • How do you future proof your connected device? You’ll need a good update strategy and lots and lots of flash memory … and maybe wires.”
  • Now, the most ubiquitous device technology standard is 802.11. But no one really knows what is the best technology for the next 10 years.”

A panel of experts spoke at the recent Renesas Developers Conference 2015 to discuss the most pressing issues facing Internet of Things (IoT) developers. Not surprisingly, the primary topics focused on connectivity and security. What follows are the partially paraphrased highlights from the panel discussion. – JB

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Panelists (right to left):

  • Tom Berarducci, Director, Platform Product Management, Zebra Technologies
  • Bill Flynn, CTO and VP of Engineering, Vitec Videocom
  • Pete Semmelhack, Founder and CEO, Bug Labs
  • Joseph Zaloker, Director, Tech Marketing, Arrow Electronics
  • Andrew Thomas, CEO, Skkynet
  • Kenneth Krieg, Director of Systems Engineering , IoT BU, Renesas
  • [Moderator, not shown]: Rich Nass, EVP, Brand Manager, Embedded/IoT, OpenSystems Media

Question (Nass): What is the single biggest challenge faced by engineers designing for the IoT?

Semmelhack: The IoT is all about system delivery, not hardware or software delivery. Most software engineers don’t appreciate the difficulties in designing hardware – and vice versa. Both must understand the system as a whole.

Zaloker: Lots of people already have legacy systems deployed in the field, some of which may be connected. Now, they want all of these disparate systems connected together. Adding connectivity to both new and legacy systems, along with the needed data intelligence, is tricky.

Thomas: The answer to all IoT-related questions is “security.” Customers want to know if things are secure enough and what happens if a break-in occurs. Our answer to them is, “how much trust to you need?” Security requires trade-offs between risk, the likelihood of an event and the payoff for the desired system.

–> Follow-on: (Nass) How do you quantify that for the customer?

Thomas: We don’t. It’s a conversation with the customer, more of an educational exercise.

Flynn: Security is very important, but most of the focus is on the devices. But standards compliance is critical in the food and medical markets. For example, the medical industry almost doesn’t care how benefit the device might bring if it isn’t HEPA qualified. That’s why we connect our devices on a cellular network (and not the medical networks).

Krieg: The other big elephant in the room – besides security – is privacy. The recent increase in ransom-ware is as much a threat to privacy as security.

Semmelhack: The security examples just mentioned are IT problems. I think IoT is a concept, not a product or a market. Its definition depends upon who you are. I mentioned this because security issues have been around for decades. I don’t care if someone hack my refrigerator. Remember when credit card purchases where first introduced on the web? Everyone worried about security. Now, it’s not a big deal. Security is a design issue.

–> Follow-on: (Krieg) Hacking into a refrigerator is a big deal if you’re in the food industry. A competitor might turn your refer off and spoil all your produce.

Berarducci: If we are talking about IoT, then most important thing is that people use IoT technology. To me, IoT is about making it ubiquitous. But figuring out the connectivity pieces is still a big problem. People need to use similar components and that means standardization.

 

Question (audience): The IoT connects to the Internet otherwise it’s just embedded. How do you see various standards evolving, like Zigbee?

Flynn: The challenge will be with the spectrum. For example, imagine when all the beds in a large hospital are connected via Zigbee, Bluetooth, etc. The available spectrum will fill up quickly.

Zaloker: Lots of things are coming to the market. But if you only have X amount of dollars for wireless sensors, then that will impact your connectivity decisions. I don’t see the number of protocols getting less but a lot more.

 

Question (audience): Is there a set of criteria or best practices that will help us decide?

Semmelhack: It would be great to have best practices (for connectivity). But where would they come from? I believe that MIT has some, as does Qualcomm at the platform level. In a way, we’ve been spoiled. For example, Facebook stood on the shoulders of all this work with everything standardized and we all had Wintel machines that were ready to go. But there is no WinTel for the IoT. [Editor’s Note: Wintel is a term for PCs based on the Intel microprocessor and one of the Microsoft Windows operating system from Microsoft.]

 

Question (audience): How do I future proof my connected device in medical profession for next 10 years. I’m planning to use a remote hub that I update every few years.

Berarducci: You’ll need a good update strategy and lots and lots of flash memory.

Krieg: You are talking about choosing hardware for that device. The most ubiquitous device (technology standard) now is 802.11. I would go with ubiquitous Bluetooth, since it’s in everyone’s phone and will be around a long time. But no one really knows (what is the best technology for the future).

–> Follow-on: (Audience) My problem is that WiFi doesn’t always connect. So for a hospital application, how can you be safe? Should I use cable?

Flynn: Even wires may have problems in the future. Today’s cable can handle Megabytes but in the future it may have to handle Terabytes. The IT network guy (of the future) will want to rip out all of the old cable.

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