The Internet of Things is really starting to take hold as the price of sensors plummets, opening the way for the industry to optimise processes and seize interesting new market opportunities. In April the TNO-ESI symposium considered the impact of the paradigm shift in embedded systems engineering. The two German keynote speakers suggested that this signifies nothing short of a revolution.
From smartphones to lamps, washing machines and cars: more and more devices are connected to the internet. According to German technology company Bosch the six billion devices connected in 2016 will grow to thirty billion in 2020. These devices have, for instance, an UMTS or wifi receiver for communication, a GPS transmitter for localisation or a sensor to measure information: embedded systems that combine hardware and software. Rapid technological advances are reducing the prices of such systems enormously, bringing new applications within reach.
Two speakers at the TNO-ESI symposium of last April, Professor Dieter Rombach, of the University of Kaiserslautern and founder of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering (IESE), and Dr. Julian Bartholomeyczik, head of software development at Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions, underlined the paradigm shift signified by the current developments in embedded systems. “The falling price of sensors brings connectivity everywhere within reach. That is a radical shift. The industry is now discovering what possibilities this brings,” says Bartholomeyczik.
“The falling price of sensors brings connectivity everywhere within reach”
Bosch is developing all kinds of devices for the Internet of Things (IoT), like a development kit. This is a platform with many different kinds of sensors (such as an acceleration meter, gyroscope, humidity meter) that enables companies to test prototypes. They also make parking sensors or a sensor that measures the moisture and temperature of foodstuffs and provides realtime feedback. The company is currently testing these methods in hundreds of pilot plants. Software lies at the heart of these sensors, actuators and transmitters. Rombach: “Software enables communication and data-analysis and thus the emergence of new services. Like connecting cars with each other or with the emergency services when an emergency occurs or with insurance companies for basing premiums on driving behaviour.”
Professor Dieter Rombach
Software is the core
The topic vibrates through every industrial sector, according to Bartholomeyczik. Companies with a lot of process steps can profit from IoT. “There is a very clear return on investment. If all industrial equipment is connected with the internet, then you have a better insight into exactly what is going on in your production line. This means less waste, less maintenance and better performance.” These developments are expected to lead to a considerable rise in productivity and added value in industries such as chemicals, automotive, machine-building, electronics, agriculture and ICT. Rombach believes that there is a great need for companies to embrace IoT. He cites the automotive industry as an example. “Traditional hardware companies like car manufacturers are confronted with falling sales, on the one hand, and competition from service providers, such as companies that offer mobility as a service but do not own cars themselves, on the other. If car manufacturers want to remain profitable, they will have to find a niche in this new service market. Otherwise, the mobility market will be taken over by IT companies and car manufacturers will be reduced to hardware suppliers with lower margins.”
Dr. Julian Bartholomeyczik
Collaboration with Fraunhofer IESE
The great complexity of all the different systems in an IoT network presents a number of challenges to optimising the software. For instance, interoperability is essential to allow all the systems to communicate with each other and speak the same language while the electronics involved must become much more energy-efficient. Bartholomeyczik: “The software also has to be able to translate the events in the real world more precisely to the virtual world. For example, car sensors must be able to rapidly and accurately detect which objects are in the vicinity of the car and connect the appropriate action.”
Embedded Systems Innovation by TNO (TNO-ESI) is working on these challenges. This TNO entity is focusing on aspects like performance, safety and making systems future-proof. Its approach is multidisciplinary and it has intensive collaborative relationships with industrial and academic parties. Dieter Rombach and Arnold Stokking, director van TNO Industry, recently formalised the cooperation between TNO-ESI and Fraunhofer IESE. Rombach: “TNO-ESI is one of Europe’s core players in embedded software technology. Through our partnership we want to combine our competencies and together explore and develop the digital transformation in Europe.” Bartholomeyczik adds: “TNO-ESI plays an important role as enabler, as a breeding ground and as a central party to which companies from different backgrounds can connect. TNO-ESI fosters innovation, knowledge exchange, the sharing of experiences and helps companies adjust to this paradigm shift.”
“TNO-ESI is one of Europe’s core players in embedded software technology”
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