Virtualized IoT Development Environment Reduces Design Time

Seebo’s new virtualized environment simplifies the design of smart, connected IoT products.

Designing embedded systems presents a Catch-22: the hardware and firmware are developed in parallel, but it’s difficult to test either one because the hardware and firmware are interdependent. When a prototype doesn’t work, it’s hard to know whether the problem is hardware or firmware – that’s why simulators, in-circuit emulators, and integrated development environments were created.

The Internet of Things (IoT) adds yet another complication: in addition to the hardware and firmware, there’s likely to be a smartphone/tablet app that communicates with the product. How does a programmer design and test an app for a product when the product itself doesn’t exist yet? Seebo, a Software as a Service (SaaS) company, recently added a simulator to its IoT Creator, helping engineers reduce the idea-to-market time by giving app developers a “virtual” version of the product.  

IoT Creator

Seebo’s IoT Creator is a visual, drag-and-drop development environment, featuring libraries of smart components. The virtual simulator lets engineers test features as they are added, and the electronic cost optimizer maintains a bill of materials and keeps a running total of the product’s cost. Designers can choose from a multitude of smart components, such as Bluetooth (Classic or Low Energy), WiFi, sensors, displays, lights, relays, and actuators. IoT Creator’s proprietary algorithm helps the designer select the right modules based on the product concept, and makes sure that the components are suitably matched.

Once a virtual prototype exists, app developers can use the cross-platform software development kit to design and test apps that work with the product. When the hardware and firmware designers have worked out the bugs, the developers can order a physical prototype for further testing or to share with app developers.

At that point, IoT Creator provides a list of vendors and prices for each component in the system. The system automatically generates schematics, printed circuit board layouts, and manufacturing instructions.

Potential IoT Products

The number of products that can be enhanced with IoT technology is almost limitless, but since I usually write about energy, let’s look at a couple of ways that IoT can help with energy management.

Ceiling fans are a great alternative to central air conditioning – they use roughly one-tenth the energy that AC compressors use. But a fan doesn’t actually cool the room – it simply blows warm air away from people, allowing us to shed heat more effectively. A ceiling fan blowing on an unoccupied room is a waste of energy. Someone in my house (I won’t mention her name, but the ring on her left hand matches the ring on my left hand) frequently forgets to turn off the ceiling fan when she leaves the room. A smart ceiling fan includes occupancy sensors to turn off the fan when nobody is there. Fan speed is automatically adjusted based on room temperature, and electricity consumption can be measured and reported to an app that monitors and remotely controls the fan.

Smart outlets allow a user to remotely control and monitor any device that plugs into a wall socket:

“The IoT revolution is taking place right now, and many manufacturers are struggling to remain relevant in today’s smart and connected world”, said Lior Akavia, CEO of Seebo. “Building IoT products can be complicated, expensive and risky. It is a comprehensive task to coordinate the world of hardware, sensors, software, firmware, PCBA factories, mobile apps, cloud and security – while integrating them into a smart, connected product. Seebo bridges that gap for  manufacturers by providing the resources, skills and tools to easily and seamlessly incorporate IoT technology thus helping them to create or revitalize products and manufacturing processes for our connected world.”

I started my engineering career designing microprocessor (and later, microcontroller) based products. The development tools were crude, communication standard was RS-232, and unless the product was battery-powered, nobody was concerned with energy consumption. Now that I’ve moved into renewable energy and energy management, it’s interesting to see how my old friend, the microcontroller, has found its way into so many energy-related products. Every one of the smart components mentioned in this article has a microcontroller inside. Some are small, basic, and inexpensive; others are large, complex, and a little more pricey. But even the simplest one – something that sells for two dollars in production quantities – has more processing power than NASA had onboard the Apollo command modules that flew to the Moon. And thanks to tools like IoT Creator, they’re a whole lot easier to program!

Images courtesy of Seebo


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