Reliable Electronics for the Robust Regions of the IoT
When smart devices communicate on the harsh and mission-critical side of life, it is not only about trust in secure connectivity, but also about trust in ruggedness and safety of the computer electronics. Where connectivity standards are still in the air, flexibility of the hardware architecture and open hardware standards are key.
The Need for Connected Computing
With more than 30 billion devices connected through the Internet of Things by 2020, also every embedded electronics platform exchanging data with other devices, a maintenance station or a back office server are part of the game. Computer based communication of connected machines in industrial automation, in the power & energy sector, medical devices as well as all kinds of vehicles in transportation is based on multiple technologies such as fieldbusses, Ethernet and wireless communication.
The most popular communication channels of an embedded computer system to the world today are the standards of wired – and increasingly wireless Ethernet variants, audio and video transmission standards, down to the legacy industry-oriented fieldbusses.
Ethernet protocols, components and assemblies combined with a worldwide acceptance of the standard result in lower costs of the application and faster time to market because they all “speak the same language”. Ethernet functions on the computer side range from a simple interface (device to device), via switches and routers (managing complex Ethernet networks) to gateways (interacting with devices or networks that speak different languages).
The wireless transport of data is a precondition for any device to be able to communicate within the Internet of Things. Terrestrial standards include WLAN (Wi-Fi), WWAN with GSM (2G), UMTS (3G), LTE (4G), or WPAN with Bluetooth, ZigBee etc. Satellites support data communication as well as global positioning using GPS, GLONASS or Galileo.
From Fieldbus to Real-Time Ethernet Solutions
Fieldbusses have been developed to enable simpler and standardized connection of complex systems. Today, Ethernet networks are an alternative when price and high bandwidth issues (e.g., for state of the art video and audio content) make it necessary to use high-performance standardized transport protocols like TCP/IP or UDP/IP. The big technological progresses of Ethernet, switching and full-duplex transmission have accelerated development in industry and transportation so that the fieldbusses used today are partly based on industrial real-time Ethernet variants with standardized safety protocols like Profinet, EtherCAT, Ethernet Powerlink, and others.
Communication under Harsh and Longevity Conditions
When a particular network application needs more flexibility, or is exposed to operating temperatures of -40 to +85°C and beyond, or requires extended life-time beyond 10 years, it is a smart approach to support all kinds of fieldbus, Ethernet and wireless connectivity as IP cores inside an FPGA on board the appropriate computer system.
Application-Ready for the IoT?
A look at the MEN portfolio of computer systems and system components with respect to their position in the Internet of Things shows that they can also be described as a combination of processing and communication units – sitting between the “little data” (sensors, actors – the “fog”) and the “big data” (the “cloud”). These IoT-ready embedded systems are characterized by the ability to exchange data via wired or wireless networks, connecting between each other and to the world, as well as controlling and influencing each other.
Enabling Secure Communication
It depends on the requirements of the application whether the communication is based on the public Internet or a more private network structure.
As security is one of the biggest concerns in the connected world, MEN as a hardware provider makes sure to choose the appropriate hardware and operating system components as the basis for an embedded system that claims to be application-ready for IoT. Ensuring boot image integrity and securing communication using encryption or by sealing-off the network is a precondition. Boot image integrity can be achieved via measures like TPM (Trusted Platform Module) or adaptation of the BIOS or the boot loader. Encryption can be implemented via hardware encryption engines or via software. Networks can be sealed off from the outside world, e.g. from the internet, using firewalls and white or black listing can help sealing off mission-critical from non-mission-critical networks.
Security has to be considered on all communication levels, starting with boot image integrity on the lowest level. Based on TPM technology, a trusted computing platform consists of an adapted operating system and the corresponding software. Such a trusted platform can only be operated according to the limitations defined by the system supplier. The advantage for the user is the protection against manipulation of the software by any unauthorized third party.
Security within the IoT depends on the type of communication. For example, a typical vehicle-to-land (e.g. train to back office) communication for the exchange of operator or maintenance data uses standard encryption or signature functions to implement security. Still more difficult to realize is a secure communication between a vehicle and the Internet, e.g. for the implementation of WiFi access for passengers.
Enabling Smart Communication
IoT-ready, however, also means that the embedded device must be open – adaptable – to the overlaying software and networking standards in the Internet of Things that today are not defined yet.
This interoperability is guaranteed by two measures:
- MEN’s embedded computers are only based on open hardware standards – thus being prepared to operate with open communication and software standards.
- MEN’s embedded computers are scalable and flexible by using a built-to-order concept that allows the individual tailoring of standard systems to their place within the IoT.
Rugged Devices in the IoT
In mission-critical industrial as well as transportation environments, computer devices have to be developed for harsh environments and must withstand shock, vibration, humidity and extreme temperatures. Such solutions often come with compliance according to market specific standards such as EN 50155 for railways or E-Mark for road and off-road vehicles.
Moving Devices in the IoT
It is considerably more difficult to implement reliable wireless transmission for a rapidly moving vehicle like a train, a bus, or a plane (vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-land communication). Large amounts of data need to be transferred at high speeds, over long distances and while driving through tunnels, mostly in real-time. Typical examples are passenger information systems, multimedia access units, surveillance systems for the recording and management of camera data, or service systems with diagnosis and maintenance functions.