by Timothy Beneke
Geoff Lees, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Microcontrollers, at Freescale Semiconductor, got things rolling Thursday morning at the Java Community Keynote to a packed, standing-room-only crowd. Lees presented a precise and thoughtful vision of how the coming Internet of Things (IoT) might become a reality.
“The microcontroller community is rapidly moving to adopt Java and we need your help,” said Lees. He described a picture of the IoT that, for him, changes daily with ever-increasing speed. Current network developers often have a conception of edge node devices that consist of X86 processors with large scale OS, or multicore mobile processors with mobile OS. He spoke of an alternative picture in which edge node devices are everywhere in our environment, monitoring local climate conditions, monitoring mechanical factors like stress loading, and traffic data, and making smart roads happen. He sees node devices dealing with our busiest highways, offering road tolling and other measures to even out traffic flow. Or in agriculture, the IoT might monitor climate, humidity, weather conditions, and local microclimates. He spoke of smart homes where existing home networks are coming together to conjoin future personal networks and even body networks. He spoke of the IoT in aiding fitness and health tracking.
Lees elaborated a vision in which local autonomous data intelligence is gathered through local command control, and data sets are passed onto the cloud for higher level analytics. He explained that the IoT is changing the way the semiconductor industry is thinking about technology, in terms of processing node transitions, greater utilization of advanced sensor technologies, integration of those technologies, ever rapid adoption of low power technologies both from processing as well as design techniques. Advances in signal analog integration and the IoT are bringing these things closer.
“Instead of the next few years, we’re thinking about how to do all of this in the next few months,” said Lees.
In addition, a new class of products is arriving where connectivity underpins all product development. “Over the last decade,” commented Lees, “the microcontroller industry has shipped 150 billion devices into the market, the vast majority of which were not interconnected -- they were single, local points of intelligence. Today, the plans for those products are becoming ubiquitously part of another network. Networking technology needs to be built in with the capability to run advanced communication stacks present.” All of this will require more memory, more technology, and higher gate density.
He spoke of software becoming the big differentiator in the microcontroller community. “Today,” he explained, “in the embedded microcontroller community, our customers spend approximately 60% of their R&D on software as compared with hardware development. In the next 3 years that is forecast to become 70%. We need to see the software enablers as underpinning these system solution products. All of this comes together with a wide range of networking protocols, low-power communication protocols, and stacks. And the Holy Grail would be to have IPV 6 readily available from the cloud to networking, all the way to the edge node. Until that becomes enabled by cost, by process technology, by miniaturization and power reduction, we will have a wide range of sub-net protocols.”
He spoke of a move towards universal MEMS devices and technology for sensors, followed by the integration of universal MEMS within microcontrollers and embedded processors. “All of this,” he insisted “will come together as part of the ecosystem with all of these smart services. And these smart services depend on available local service providers and service models that we, the consumer, want to pay for, or that health insurers want to pay for. Providing this service and platform for secured services is a key for the adoption of the IoT.”
He expanded on his vision of a landscape for IoT, which would extend all the way from the cloud, down through processing nodes, local connectivity networks, and on to edge or sensor nodes, where the sensor, the MCU, and local connectivity come together. The challenge today, according to Lees, is that this diversity uses a huge range of technologies, different developmental environments, different software ecosystems, and different partner networks. There exist different security classes and considerations -- even down to the current edge node devices which offer no appreciable security. This clearly is not a landscape that will provide the kind of secured service delivery that the IoT needs.
The key to creating this secure IoT lies with Java developers. Edge nodes offered through Java and Java ME offer the potential to have secure encryption and authentication services throughout the network. Developing those in other environments will be locally difficult, will not be global, and will not reach the tipping point required for the IoT to develop. “Edge nodes is a category encompassing thousands and thousands of applications -- it’s billions of devices, most of which will include some form of MCU or embedded MPU technology,” Lees explained. “Sensors and actuators, integrated connectivity and an energy source, whether that’s energy harvesting or ultra low power battery technology and long life power generation – these nodes will need to be installed in remote places with battery life spans of 10 years or more – clearly out of the range of today’s processor technologies. And many will need to be industrial or automotive grade technologies.”
He spoke of a challenge to bring performance and cost requirements so as to harness and secure larger memory stacks which will require more software in the next 2-3 years.
After offering considerably more technical detail, he spoke of how IoT could benefit humans, focusing on home tele-health and the home health hub, something Freescale has invested in recently. The availability of a wide range of personal biometrics and health analytics in the home health hub could benefit our health enormously, according to Lees. Until now, the technology has been limited by the absence of open standard secured service across the network to complete the link onto the health provider, and medical insurance providers. The new model offers a huge adoption of preventive health as opposed to diagnostic clinical health. Consumers, health insurers and the medical industry all favor it.
“Measuring heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose continually every day through changing conditions offers an immense picture of our personal health with diagnostic insights into the development of progressive disease and chronic disease management,” observed Lees. “At the local hub level the installation of analytics will offer feedback and guidance on lifestyle, on the management of conditions and offer the personal feedback needed for us to all manage our own health. The data can also be sent in datasets for further analysis in the network and cloud so the next time you visit your health practitioner, all of that data is available.”
He reported that Freescale and Oracle have announced a new agreement collaborating on engineering to develop a platform for software and hardware models for both edge nodes and a wide variety of gateway solutions. “We’re working on optimizing Java together and bringing Java functionality further into the network. We’re even envisaging what Java might look like on a transmit-only Bluetooth low-energy node in the field for 25 years, a concept today that is unthinkable for a Java model. The key is to provide a secure service delivery for our customers and for service providers across the industry.”
The rest of the keynote consisted of a variety of informative and entertaining presentations.
Donald Smith, Senior Director, Product Management, at Oracle’s Java Platform Group, took the stage and commented on recent developments in recent JavaOnes. JavaOne 2011 was about moving Java forward and rebooting the infrastructure after the Java SE 7 launch. Last year, the theme was innovation and showing Java’s role in major tech segments like the cloud, big data, IoT and open source.
“This year,” he said, “we take one step beyond all that, and celebrate the 'End User' and 'Application Developers'. We want to go beyond the typical ‘ISV’ that appears at JavaOne keynotes and show some inspiring applications being built thanks to the hard work of the Java ecosystem.”
After some rousing appreciation of the Raspberry Pi Challenge, the Codegarten and other JavaOne matters by Tori Wieldt of the Oracle Technology Network, a series of creative contributors to Java took the stage, hosted by Henrik Stahl, Vice President, Product Management, Java Platform Group at Oracle.
-- Java Champion Stephan Janssen, founder of BeJUG, Devoxx(4kids), Parleys & playpass.be talked about “Devoxx for Kids,” a one-day event he organized in response to his 11-year-old son’s desire to learn to program.
-- Oracle Academy Vice President, Alison Derbenwick Miller, described the Academy’s important work impacting 2.5 million students in 102 countries.
-- Aditya Gupta, an impressive 10-year-old Minecraft hacker, entertained the audience with his hacking demo where he showed off some video explosions.
-- Two Duke Segway robots appeared on stage and strutted around under the guidance of Java Champion, Stephen Chin.
-- A video was shown of Java Champion Paul Perrone’s Java-powered cars.
-- Drew Hylbert, VP, Technology and Infrastructure at Opower, came onstage and shared how Java technology is used to enable consumers to save energy.
-- Mike Marzo, a Technology Fellow at Goldman Sachs, discussed the value of the 100 million lines of Java code that Goldman’s developers have written over the years.
--Sean Phillips, Senior Software Engineer at a.i. solutions, presented a video that explained uses of Java in NASA MMS mission operations software.
-- Finally “father of Java” and Chief Software Architect at Liquid Robotics, James Gosling appeared and remarked that Aditya Gupta made him feel that he too should be a Minecraft hacker. He showed the view from the water looking at Hawaii from one of the Liquid Robotics nodes and explained in detail how it all worked.
The Community Keynote offered a strong sense of renewal and pride at what Java has accomplished and where it may be headed.
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