‘Internet of things’ (IoT) technology is gradually spreading across multiple applications, from home personal assistants to industrial sensor networks. It is still a fragmented market, more like a constellation of applications, with many differences in specifications and other areas, including communication protocols. But what does unify IoT is the ability to understand what is happening in the real world, analyze what it means and transfer the information to the next level of system intelligence. Sensors and the interaction of sensors with their environment are therefore the fundamental elements of the IoT. Heptagon has developed multiple technologies and solutions in order to serve IoT applications. We recently interviewed Dr. Erik Volkerink, Chief Business Officer and Executive VP of Heptagon, now a member of the ams group.
Dr. Volkerink also serves as CEO of RF Digital Corporation, a subsidiary of Heptagon developing connectivity solutions for IoT products. He gave us more detail on what we can expect from Heptagon and also the combination of Heptagon and ams. Also, IoT sensors and sensor management for consumer, medical and industrial applications will be the central focus of the Yole/Fraunhofer EMFT workshop that will take place in Munich on July 3 and 4 (more info). Come and talk to us about what we can expect from all the different IoT applications.
Yole Développement: How does Heptagon envisage the next stage in the evolution of IoT?
Dr. Erik Volkerink: There are several aspects to consider - the actual functionality itself, how one interacts and uses it, and then the implications for manufacturing and delivering these. For many of us, the mobile phone was the first connected product we experienced, which in many ways calibrated our IoT product expectations in terms of over-the-air updates, fast development cycles, and slick user interfaces. First generation IoT products positioned the mobile phone application as the one-to-one remote control of a product and at times were more gimmicks demonstrating wireless technology than truly enhancing user experiences. Early IoT products (IoT 1.0) were centered around dedicated apps and were limited in capabilities such as voice and gesture interactivity. A new IoT era now calls for more functionality with better integration and usability. At the same time, new methodologies are required for manufacturers to compete and win in such a fast-paced market.
YD: Heptagon has identified several trends and highlights in IoT capabilities. Could you please share your vision on this?
EV: The Internet of Things really is more and more the “Interface of Things™” where products are evolving beyond simply connecting on a machine-to-machine level, and it’s more about revolutionizing the human-to-machine interface. We see the biggest advances being in the sensing and interaction to enhance the user’s experience. New capabilities will be centered on recognizing and interpreting user habits and intentions and will involve advanced interfacing, rather than being limited to touch screens. This will be enabled utilizing advanced sensors and connectivity ecosystems.
YD: Could you provide an example of that?
EV: User interfaces that are location and context aware, and which sense user intentions, display relevant information and control components - such as when you walk into a new environment. A great example of this is a hotel. Envision that you arrive at a new hotel and walk up to a kiosk that senses your presence. You securely exchange information, are checked in, and then directed to your room. When you approach your room, you are detected and can unlock the door with your phone and a password. Once inside the room you can operate everything from the lights, temperature, minibar, and even order room service, all by simply navigating the environment. Ideally you have never had to download a new app and your interactions are completely secure. Heptagon’s RF Digital Simblee technology, not only makes this scenario possible, but it provides a rapid path to development.
Also, gesture recognition, popularized by futuristic and science fiction movies, is rapidly finding its way into the most innovative IoT products. In the era of multiple 3D vision-enabled products such as collaborative augmented reality goggles, resilience against interference is paramount. A non-intrusive additional dimension is needed to get the necessary insights into the scene to make these products work smoothly. Next generation product authentication will not go through simple pin codes, but through iris scanning or face recognition. Heptagon’s 3D vision solutions provides gesture recognition, augmented reality and virtual reality capabilities that work both indoors as well as outside, resolve interference issues. Moreover, illumination solutions address the need of eye-tracking, iris scanning, as well as face recognition.
Agile fast-track development for IoT2.0, Courtesy of Heptagon
YD: Does this mean deep change for designing future applications? If so what would that be?
EV: Next generation user interfaces need to be truly centered on the user and their habits versus centered on specific product specifications. Next generation user experiences will need to be dynamic, context and location aware, and span across multiple products rather than exclusively serving one specific product. In fact, next generation user experiences are not bound to the screen of a mobile phone but involve augmented and virtual reality, gesture recognition, eye-tracking, and voice-controlled virtual assistants with authentication not through fingerprints or simple pin codes, but through touchless iris scanning or face recognition. Next generation products will need to become truly smart, smart enough to interact with its environment to enable seamless integration in a very secure fashion.
YD: It sounds like there should be a lot of challenges in developing these new types of interfaces and applications. Can you please highlight them?
EV: As we are heading towards a world with 10+ IoT products per user or household, the model of having a dedicated app per product is quickly running out of steam: intuitive, user-friendly and seamless ways of interfacing will become paramount.
These requirements come at a time when the electronics industry is barely keeping up with the transition from digital to wireless products which in itself is a technology transition as profound as when the industry moved from analog to digital products. There are numerous implementation challenges with the above vision of the future. At design time, it is unclear what products a specific user will interact with; therefore, products need to be mutually aware in ways unknown a-priori. In fact, over the air updates become paramount. Products have to become truly intelligent, context aware and able to communicate, not only their presence, but everything required to interact with it. At the same time, interface platforms need to be able to render the interfaces required to deal with end products on the fly. The technology stack needs to be implemented very effectively and efficiently as latency stacking prohibitively amplifies latency issues in a world with 10+ IoT products each. Next generation interface technology such as augmented reality, virtual reality, gesture recognition, will need to be simplified and modularized into simple plug & play building blocks to penetrate the larger economy. Moreover, all levels of the IoT technology stack need to be modularized to simplify development. These challenges further widen the gap between development complexity and productivity in a world where many IoT projects are already challenged to deliver results that are on time, on target and on budget. New and more agile IoT development methodologies are needed, leveraging plug & play building blocks versus traditional waterfall approaches, in order to win in the IoT 2.0 era and beyond.
YD: How is Heptagon helping IoT manufacturers to solve these challenges?
EV: Traditionally, companies have used a serial approach to product development, referred to as a waterfall methodology. In the area of software development, a major transition happened towards an agile development methodology. Agile development describes a set of principles for product development through which requirements and solutions evolve in a collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams. It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement. Agile development encourages rapid and flexible responses to change. However, IoT product development is still very much done using a waterfall approach leading to challenges related to on time, on scope, and on budget delivery. Especially in case of IoT products the new IoT technology stack is not well understood, while end-users are demanding new products faster than ever, with regular updates, and with all the new requirements of IoT2.0 products. Due to these and other competitive pressures, the waterfall customization of cookie-cutter IoT reference designs is rapidly running out of steam. Heptagon has solved this problem with RF Digital’s Simblee and enabled true contemporary development protocols and tools to accelerate innovation towards IoT 2.0 intelligent products, and continues to rapidly expand its Interface-of-Things™ ecosystem with qualified sensors as well as application platforms. The Simblee ecosystem consists of modular foundational blocks including cloud, mobile apps, sensors, actuators, and wireless subsystems, combined with a proprietary operating system that serves as the “glue”. The Simblee operating system allows developers to focus on actual use cases versus the plethora of internal hardware, software, cloud and mobile client complexities. The framework optimizes reuse while preserving the desired customization, effectively enabling the agile product innovation methodology for IoT products with a seamless path to mass production.
YD: How would you summarize the IoT2.0 landscape?
EV: IoT2.0 is where products evolve to be connected, adaptive, and mutually aware in ground-breaking and exciting new ways. Development cycles are compressed and methodologies are truly agile, leveraging plug & play building blocks focusing on fundamentals. A world where the environment, user-interfaces or even capabilities are not fully known a-priori. New capabilities and improved user experiences are developed and available faster and more cost-effectively. Heptagon offers complete, simple and seamless solutions, powering the Interface of Things™ and paving the way for this next era of IoT to thrive!
Dr. Erik H. Volkerink serves as Chief Business Officer and Executive VP of Heptagon, now a member of the ams group, and also serves as CEO of RF Digital Corporation, a subsidiary of Heptagon developing connectivity solutions for IoT products. Dr. Volkerink formerly served as the CTO of $26B Flextronics, CTO of Advantest Americas, and CTO of Verigy. He is an angel investor in various startups, holds a PHD EE from Stanford, a MBA from Wharton, and had served as a Consulting Professor of Stanford University. https://www.linkedin.com/in/volkerink
Join the promising furture of Sensors in IoT seminar on July 3 and 4 in Munich. Yole Développement and Fraunhofer EMFT's second MEMS seminar in Munich, Germany, will be dedicated to the critical role of sensors for the success of connected devices in the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT ecosystem is a complex mix of technologies including devices, modules, connectivity, platforms, storage, servers, analytics software and IT services.
Consequently, beyond general framework conditions, trust, security and privacy will be pivotal. Smart sensors embedded in connected devices will become the backbone for a variety of applications from communication, automotive and manufacturing to logistics and health care.
The seminar will feature presentations on technology requirements and the latest trends in sensor fusion. It will also discuss production challenges and provide updates on applications for sensors, on the way to the "Next Big Thing". With speakers from: Audi, Bosch Sensortec, NXP Semiconductors, STMicroelectronics, Aryballe, Elichens, First Sensor, EnOcean, AMS, Intel, LFoudry, System Plus Consulting, Bosch, Infineon, and more to be announced soon ! Early bird rate until April 28 ! AGENDA
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