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Embedded software engineers grapple with IoT complexities

Posted: 27 Sep 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet of Things? processor? embedded software? HTML5?

Embedded software developer and founder of Logical Elegance Elecia White discusses her experiences with creating connected devices for the Internet of Things and the various struggles she has encountered using various connectivity solutions.

The Internet of Things is supposed to describe a world where connected devices improve our lives. But an embedded engineer finds crippling trade-offs in every solution today.

Let me introduce myself: I'm an embedded software developer. As far as signal processing, processor selection, battery handling, interfaces to peripherals, and optimisation goes, well, I've got those skills nailed.

But I've discovered that working with a connected device requires a fairly significant expansion of those skills. I should point out that it's hard to find this complete skill set in one individual: The diversification of computer science means that deeply embedded engineers often have trouble talking to server engineers

I've had to learn Javascript, HTML5 (and CSS), server-side programming (PHP), how TCP/IP works, and how to use Wireshark (it's not as trivial as it sounds). I like to learn new things, but I admit to wanting to strangle an Internet-enabled stuffed animal I was working on when a vendor suggested that Ajax had just the functionality that I needed, and that I should learn it. Gee, thanks.

As a developer, cost, functionality, and perceived ease-of-use influence my technology choices. To that end, I've connected devices via BTLE, cell modems, Broadcom 802.11 WiFi chips with MCUs running TCP/IP stacks, other WiFi chips that have serial interfaces, and Electric Imp's WiFi cloud solution. But no matter how careful I am in the selection process, once I've started working on a design I've never come across a connectivity solution that didn't make me wish I'd chosen somethinganythingelse.

Moreover, I would not want to give any of the connected devices I've created to my non-geek friends. The reason is that, for a user, setup is a larger barrier than is generally accepted by device manufacturers. As wireless costs come down, the configuration remains an unsolved issue, which causes products to have a higher support cost than expected. Security, too, is an issue that sabotages usability, leading grandma to have a 190-character password scribbled on a sticky note that was once on top of her router.

Even if you have a broad background (or a large team), there is no ideal connectivity solution. Let me repeat: There is no ideal connectivity solution. Each technology has its advantages, sure, but the disadvantages can far outweigh the positives.


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