First released in October last year, the Synergy platform was officially launched by Renesas in Australia last month. Brent Balinski spoke to the company and one of its local independent design house partners about developing products for the Internet of Things.
There’s a push to make products “smart”: connecting them and making use of the data they can collect.
From vehicles moving countless tonnes of ore to thermostats to cow udders: using connectivity and feedback to use an asset better or cheaper is a trend that has been hard to miss in the last few years. And whenever it’s mentioned, the “50 billion connected devices by 2020” figure (even though the prediction is probably off the mark) is often close behind.
Among these are manufacturers focussing more on services than products, a move “from pipeline to platforms” in their business models, and a greater need to get to market quickly.
“At the onset of the embedded industry, when semiconductors were finally generating an integrated chip, with TTL Logics, NPUs – people still had to program them, with low-level assembly languages; they made electronics that converted from electromechanical into electronics,” Carbone told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
He added that the trend of embedded control within systems is progressing further, and the goal is towards “smart” devices.
The power of platforms
“And ‘smart’ was really translated from the ability to configure, and the re-programmability of that product,” continued Carbone.
“As MCUs [microcontrollers] became Flash-based, FPGAs [field-programmable gate arrays] became re-programmable, you then were able to create a lot of content now in the software with higher-level languages like C++ and other interpretive languages.”
Sold as a way to cope with this added complexity, Renesas Electronics Singapore recently launched its Synergy platform in the region. It features a collection of software, microcontrollers and development tools. According to Renesas, the platform is able to help businesses get IoT concepts get to market quicker by removing things such as lower-level programming, with designers only having to concentrate on the API level.
With new ways of enabling an idea to reach an audience with a few people and a few dollars, what matters less nowadays is doing everything from scratch. As has been the case with the mobile phone and computer industries for many years now, a platform approach will be the way forward with the IoT, believes Renesas.
“People still want it faster, better, cheaper, but that’s not enough. You’ve got to get to market faster, and it’s got to be innovative and differentiated from everyone else,” offered Carbone.
“And this is where you need to focus your R&D dollars and focus your product – in those areas.”
All about services
Part of the company’s Independent Design House (IDH) network, product development company IntelliDesign agreed that a shift towards services was being encouraged by the next wave of electronics manufacturing.
“The Internet of Things is really driving that – all about services,” said Dr Chris Bishop, managing director of IntelliDesign.
The lower barrier to entry through new platforms for smart electronics means creating raw products is easier to do. Because of this, it’s now increasingly important to also deliver an attached service to provide something of value.
(Elsewhere, it’s been suggested that the trends above could force manufacturers the serve their clients – especially industrial ones – through outcomes rather than just raw goods.)
“And a lot of our potential clients – we make gateways that connect to sensors, and we make the sensors as well, but sometimes the clients come with their own sensors,” he told this magazine at the launch of Synergy.
“We’ve been doing this for 20 years and the traditional way with hardware was a long development time, and it was expensive and budgets were high… Hardware’s almost becoming a commodity.”
Renesas’ Singapore’ Ronnie Ho, director of marketing, said there was already evidence that Australian manufacturers were starting to catch on to the IoT trend. This included the accompanying shift from raw manufacturing to services (and from hardware to software).
“This is one example of a sleeping machine turned into services,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly of one local customer, which he did not name.
Even that great Australian invention – the sleep apnoea mask – can be made a “smarter” and thus more useful.
“They are already taking a typical CPAP machine, one-to-one, and [adding] the entire IoT platform: sending patient data over the internet to the medical service provider, and reducing the overall cost of the government for patient care,” finished Ho.