10 sensors, 3 protocols, 3 minutes, 1 dev kit for cloud-connected IoT apps

It should come as no surprise that since the release of the original Arduino, BeagleBoard, and Raspberry Pi platforms only a few short years ago that quick-start development boards have become all the rage. The value proposition is obvious for the developer community and vendors alike, as the low-cost dev kits reduce barriers to entry for those looking to prototype () designs, and also enable semiconductor companies to market their offerings to a much wider audience than ever before.

However, while sub-$50 development platforms have greatly expanded the reach of embedded hardware and software tools to engineers of all experience levels, their price point also limits the capabilities a single off-the-shelf kit can provide designers that are serious about bringing IoT projects to market. This has lead to the evolution of various “cape” ecosystems wherein additional sensors, , or other functionality can be obtained through hardware peripherals available at nominal price points. But if you are trying to decide between or for a , or whether adding a temperature or proximity sensor will really help push your smart home monitor over the top, the development time and cost of integrating additional capes can add up quickly, particularly when trying to move from the drawing board to a -connected proof of concept in the fast-paced world of IoT.

So, how do you reconcile the low cost of development boards with the functionality of a full-blown embedded development platform? If you ask Jarle Boe, System Applications Manager at , the answer comes from kits that add as many faculties as possible “because they can.”

SimpleLink SensorTag: More hardware options, quick cloud access

In a May media briefing, Boe and his team out of Oslo, Norway unveiled ’s new SimpleLink SensorTag development platforms, a suite of development packs (a Debug DevPack, Display DevPack, and LED Audio DevPack) for engineers looking to get a head start on IoT designs (Figure 1). Out of the box the SensorTag kit contains 10 low-power sensors, which may seem like overkill on the surface, but as Boe points out, “it’s much easier for anyone using our design as a starting point to remove sensors than to add new ones.”

[Figure 1 | Based on the SimpleLink ultra-low-power CC2650 that targets Bluetooth Smart, , and 6LoWPAN applications, the Texas Instruments SensorTag development kit provides 10 sensors and quick-connect cloud access for rapid IoT prototyping and development.]

More importantly, though, is multiprotocol wireless support permitted by the onboard CC2650 wireless MCU with an integrated Bluetooth Smart, ZigBee, and 6LoWPAN radio. Since most IoT products begin as a simple sensor application, the support for multiple 2.4 GHz wireless standards allows developers to easily test and switch between connectivity solutions with a simple software download as application requirements evolve – where the process of reading, downloading, and patching to get -based gateways off the ground can sometimes be days long, this capability can significantly reduce development time and cost.

The SimpleLink SensorTag also includes access to the Bluemix IoT Foundation, which facilitates cloud access in matter of moments using the IBM Quickstart cloud. From there, all that’s needed to connect your sensor and start developing cloud-based applications is to download the SensorTag app, turn on the SensorTag, and wait about 90 seconds for the sensors to start advertising their data. According to Boe, the process shouldn’t take more than three minutes.

Open season for IoT

Originally labeled as tinker toys for hobbyists, open hardware and software platforms have carved out a space in the embedded market as the starting point for many high-volume product deployments. They represent one of the few areas where business models permit collaborative synergies between the tech establishment and grassroots organizations. If only in an effort to help grow the pie, the resulting innovation will yield new applications and services that benefit industry as a whole. This is IoT.