Managing the IoT lifecycle with development environments

Internet of Things () lifecycle management is becoming a big part of today’s development considerations. Development environments are starting to respond to these needs by incorporating an integrated, yet modular, layered approach. Today’s article looks at the Synergy Platform and considerations for handling the IoT lifecycle.

The IoT is a heterogeneous system that encompasses embedded real-time sensors and systems to network connectivity/transport through gateways and, ultimately, analysis and business applications. Each of these components have traditional development environments, but little to no support for integration with the other subsystems in the end-to-end IoT environment. Bit by bit, I’ve seen these environments starting to expand their capabilities to address an end-to-end IoT system and the associated lifecycle management.

Brian Davis, vice president of marketing for Synergy Platform Business Division at Renesas, spoke with me about one such platform called the Renesas Synergy Platform. Davis’s experience with a wide variety of companies and industries ranging from start-up to fortune 500 give him a unique perspective on the IoT. “The Synergy Platform concept started three years ago,” Davis said. “Trends in the controller space were ripe for a completely different take on how embedded development was done.”

Process technology has become smaller and more efficient, which, coupled with significant drops in microcontroller (MCU) costs, allows for a broader range of sensors to become “smart.” While the days of optimizing every line of code in an embedded environment have largely been washed away, time to market pressures and increased complexity demanding high quality have risen to the forefront in today’s embedded and IoT world.

“We decided to minimize the variations available in the platform and bring focus to address the complexity issues. So we picked an RTOS for the platform and retooled the microcontroller line-up,” Davis said.

The platform is aligned around the ARM Cortex-M CPU core and makes everything a “superset/subset” from the low end to the high end of the MCU product line. The Synergy Platform formalized the development process to allow the platform software to enable certifications like IEC61508.

Configure versus coding

Another unique thing about the Synergy Platform is more finished code that exposes configuration interfaces. This can turn weeks or months of development to hours or days.

The platform consists of the Synergy Software Package (SSP), which includes board support packages, the ThreadX RTOS, and a variety of libraries and middleware for file, display, connectivity, messaging, capacitive touch, audio, and more. Application frameworks and functional libraries add more finished code and expose configuration APIs for software control.

One of the key features of the platform involves qualified and verified software add-ons – these components target faster qualification and certifications for various industries.

Davis provided an example of the power of the platform. “Let’s say you don’t want to re-write USB – you just want to open, read, write, and close the device. Or, say you have a motor controller algorithm that requires tight timing and real-time. You might want to write to the inputs, directly control timers, and so on. The platform provides the flexibility to write in the traditional ways while also taking advantage of the higher-level interfaces. You can work at the hardware abstraction layer, encapsulate the software as a thread, or a mix of both. We have between 15-20 frameworks that abstract the operation of the device class and enable configuration at a higher level.”

The platform roadmap involves adding connectivity capabilities for mobile and remote sensors. Renesas is also planning to create a sensor framework to easily adapt a wide variety of sensor devices into a software project.

There are options when it comes to the development environment. Renesas supports an eclipse-based version called e2studio, which incorporates a number of plug-in configurators for the Synergy MCUs. The Synergy version of the IAR Embedded Workbench toolchain is available as well. This allows the flexibility to develop with e2studio using the GCC compiler for C/C++ or developing with IAR Embedded Workbench with the IAR C/C++ compiler. Coding is in C/C++ today – with MCU performance ranging from 32MHz to 240MHz controllers and real-time requirements, Java doesn’t seem to play a role at this point.

Focus on security

Davis also emphasized the need for security in these systems – a concern that’s often shared by the greater IoT community.

“IoT needs stronger security than traditional microcontroller applications. We put focus on providing strong security in the platform,” Davis explains. “First, there are libraries for encryption/decryption. The next step was adding key management with a secure key store.”

Davis also mentioned establishing root of trust and managing the security life cycle. Renesas is partnering with Data IO for adding security to the programming environments. Their partnership with Secure Thingz provides an authoring tool to create authoring firmware, maintaining protection of any root keys in the platform. The low-level framework becomes the place where you can put update managers for image authentication when performing software updates or adding applications. Renesas is also a lead partner for TrustZone-based ARMv8M architecture. This provides a strong security profile for the platform.

Davis believes the industry needs to bring more focus on security from the ground up from the start of the project. He believes the Synergy platform provides a solid foundation for that, and it will continue to get stronger.

Summary

As IoT applications and systems continue to mature, managing the IoT lifecycle becomes more critical. Implementers must bring more focus to the architecture and layer the software from sensor to gateway and gateways to cloud. It’s important for platforms to focus on providing development and configuration environments that accommodate sensor on-boarding, software updates, and security. As these environments continue to advance, expect additional interfaces and integration to the gateway and cloud elements of the IoT architecture.

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