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Incorporating M2M into smartphones

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:machine-to-machine? short-range devices? man-machine-interface?

Developments in wireless technologies, networking and associated support electronics have radically increased the scope of machine-to-machine communications, moving M2M comms beyond proprietary, unlicensed wireless platforms to systems built on standards-based air and application interfaces and network infrastructure. Economies of scale have focused investment and development to the point that M2M terminals are becoming commodity items.

M2M technologies have evolved along independent paths based on the implemented wireless platform. M2M solutions have been produced for cellular systems and WLAN infrastructures, and as networked wireless short-range devices (SRDs).

The divergent wireless technologies that enabled the expansion of M2M communications have now been merged onto a single platform: the smartphone. Generally, smartphone applications are known for man-machine-interface (MMI) information transfers. But one can draw application parallels between the MMI roles of the various subsystems in the smartphone platform and the substantial M2M role in industrial and military applications. In this case, the platform provides multimode wireless communications among commercial electronic systems that support applications such as appliance control, utility metering, building control and vending. This subsystem platform can also serve as a base commodity item to provide M2M communications for various dual-use sensing applications.

Further, smartphones have employed various on-board microelectromechanical system (MEMS)-based sensor technologies to realize enhanced MMI functions, and those sensors can be repurposed to support direct sensing applications.

One such adaptation of smartphone technology is LS Research's M2M Core Hardware platform. Our objective was to leverage the latest smartphone technology into a commodity M2M engine. The resultant hardware platform realizes M2M connectivity for a variety of applications.

Figure: The system architecture. (Click on image to enlarge)

The platform is based on the Qualcomm 8-series Snapdragon smartphone chip set, which provides an application processor, cellular modem, wireless connectivity (WLAN/Bluetooth), GPS receiver and configurable M2M interface.The M2M's configuration flexibility is afforded by an FPGA that provides a means of translating and controlling machine-based data sources, data sinks, on- and off-board sensor inputs, and actuator outputs between the application and the application interfaces, such as UARTs, Secure Digital I/O and general-purpose I/O.

The system architecture (figure) is largely centered on Qualcomm's MSM8x60 processor and its companion ICs, which collectively realize the various forms of wireless connectivity. Unlike a packaged smartphone platform, this unpackaged M2M module does not include the normally expected MMIs, such as the LCD display, touchscreen/keypad, camera and direct audio interfaces. Those interfaces are instead broken out to 0.5-mm-pitch headers for users who may employ external devices. The RF interfaces are available as coaxial connections using miniature U.FL-type connectors for flexibility in antenna selection and application.

Architectural details
The architecture comprises specific functional blocks that adhere to the flexibility we were looking for. The application processor is a Qualcomm asynchronous 1.5GHz SMP dual-core Scorpion, based on the ARM v.7 Cortex instruction set, that supports Android and other operating systems. One core is committed to applications and the other to wireless connectivity functions. The memory system supports up to 2 GB through a 333MHz ISM or 266MHz LPDDR2 interface.

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