As a developer, you know that not all dev kits are equal. The features can make a huge difference in your development process. While most development kits out there do their job just fine – i.e., allow you to convert an idea into a prototype with a decent effort, there are also poorly designed kits, which can turn your project into a nightmare. However, an excellent development?kit removes many headaches from your work, speeds up tracing and debugging, and provides interfaces for expansion.
But what makes a great Bluetooth dev kit? In this blog, we look at?five powerful features that can accelerate IoT prototyping and enable you to create epic IoT products rapidly!?
Rapid IoT prototyping sounds like yet another buzzword brewed inside the developer community. However, it's more than that. Rapid prototyping perfectly captures the way?IoT products are created today. Developers build multiple iterations of their software and hardware design quickly and get early user feedback. This allows them to adjust the design based on actual?user-experience and finalize a successful prototype rapidly.
There are two types of development tools for rapid IoT prototyping. You can build a prototype on Arduino or Raspberry Pi and complete the project with another, more professional software and hardware platform. However, more advanced developers prefer to craft everything from scratch with dev kits based on commercial chipsets – they allow more room for customization, and the final build is closer to a real product rather than a hobbyist experiment.
So, what do you need from a dev kit to rapidly prototype an epic Bluetooth IoT product? Here's a rundown of five powerful Bluetooth dev kit features that speed up your development work:
You spend a significant share of your prototyping time debugging software and hardware. A debugger is perhaps the most critical component of a Bluetooth dev kit, yet many available kits?do not come with a debugger!
When choosing your next Bluetooth dev kit, make sure it hosts an on-board debugger to avoid having to buy a separate board. A debugger built on the board streamlines your dev work because you can simply flash the code and debug as it runs in the target processor. Also, on-board debuggers are typically compatible with the vendor's integrated development environment (IDE), giving you more advanced debugging capabilities.
All in all, a Bluetooth Dev Kit with a built-in debugger saves you from buying an extra board, minimizes the hassle, and speeds up development work and prototyping.
Developing wireless products, including Bluetooth devices without a traffic tracer, is hard. You can't see what's?going on in the wireless link when you run into issues in the Bluetooth protocol level without a tracer, which makes?troubleshooting pure guesswork.
A dev kit with a built-in packet tracing interface, on the other hand, allows you to capture the raw Bluetooth traffic flowing into the system and analyze it with a network analyzer tool. The analyzer decodes the data into a human-readable BLE protocol format, which makes debugging a breeze.
A packet tracer interface on a Bluetooth dev kit offers invaluable debug information about transmitted and received packets in wireless links, removes the guesswork from debugging, and speeds up prototyping significantly.
When kicking off prototyping, the first thing you do is to set up a serial line between the target and PC to get data logging going and commands flowing back to the processor. This allows high-level debugging – you can find out which parts of the code are not working before making the first deep-dive.
Getting a Bluetooth dev kit with a built-in virtual com port will save you from buying an external board for UART-to-USB bridging, and, again, you can remove much hassle from your project and get your prototype off the dev board faster.
Let's face it; nobody wants to buy a Bluetooth IoT product in 2021 without a smooth smartphone App and over-the-air (OTA) software update. Suppose you want to develop excellent smartphone connectivity and OTA capability for your product, a Bluetooth dev kit with support for a generic BLE mobile app tester with OTA should be on your shopping list. It will save significant development time and helps you to launch a convincing, market-ready prototype rapidly.
No developer wants to waste precious time building every component from scratch, especially when many hardware ecosystems offer vast amounts of off-the-shelf components. However, with a dev kit, which lacks standard interfaces to hardware ecosystems, you can forget about rapid prototyping – you are doomed to spend ages creating everything ground-up by yourself or wiring up dodgy, no-name components without proper documentation.
A Bluetooth dev kit equipped with the MikroBUS? socket allows you to instantly expand your project with hundreds of auxiliary hardware components, including Click boards developed by MikroE.
However, if you don't' find what you need from MikroE's portfolio, you have other options such as the Qwiic? Connect System from Sparkfun, which is?compatible with a range of boards provided by Sparkfun, as well as Adafruit, and Seeed Studio. Via the Qwiic interface, you can chain up add-on boards over the I2C interface and build up your dev kit with more functionalities (e.g., sensors, LCDs, and other peripherals) as if they were Lego bricks.
The IoT revolution is like one big innovation contest – developers worldwide turn their wildest ideas into products. Only the fastest developers can win, and that's why rapid prototyping has become the most popular market entry strategy in IoT. As a developer, you want to get a head-start in this race and buy the dev kit with the best bang for your buck – such as Silicon Labs Explorer Kit, which provides you all the five power-features, and more, as the only Bluetooth Dev Kit in the $10 price range!
Home security device manufacturers in the UK are required to adhere to a complicated set of British and European standards before their products can hit the market, which typically requires professional installation. A consequence of this relatively high barrier to entry is that most of the available alarm solutions are professional grade and, due to these regulations, must be segregated from other smart home assistance. Scotland-based Boundary is working on bridging this gap with a state-of-the-art alarm system that consumers can install themselves and monitor through their smartphones. We recently sat down with Boundary co-founder, Paul Walton to learn more.
Tell Us About Boundary.
Boundary was founded in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, producing a smart intruder alarm system for the UK market based on Z-Wave technology. Our co-founder, Robin Knox, had the idea when he was on his honeymoon and realized the limitations of his existing alarm system meant that if his home was broken into, he would be unable to actually do anything other than watch the events unfold on a CCTV camera. Immediately upon his return, he set out to find a reasonably priced self-install security system but had little success. This gap in the market for DIY home security was the catalyst to build something that looked great, was user-friendly, and provided better features at a reasonable price point.
Internally, our company’s goal was to develop a great mobile app that provided a much more intuitive and enjoyable user experience. With a focus on the user journey and hardware design, we are anticipating launching our first product, a smart IoT alarm system, this month. This system consists of four components: the central hub (which is the Z-Wave gateway), a motion sensor, a contact sensor, and an external siren, all of which connect to the central hub advisory.
One thing that sets Boundary apart from our competitors is its EN50131 European Standard for Intruder Alarm Systems compliance certification. Achieving this level of certification requires some pretty tough validation, dropping the hub from two meters and making sure that it's still operational, for instance. The rigorous design detail has made us the first manufacturer of a Z-Wave 700 device that is currently undergoing this certification, which is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year.
Why Did You Choose Silicon Labs Z-Wave Solutions for Your Products?
When it came to selection criteria, we had many requirements that needed to be met. Some were driven by the standards and some were simply a matter of the target data transmission rates the team wanted to meet. Developing a product that did not require complicated setup and provided the range required to cover a medium-to-large sized house was also important, as was maintaining connection for all devices on the network. Z-Wave emerged as the standard that could meet these challenges. Set-up is incredibly simple, requiring the customer to simply scan a QR code to pair the device. ?
The result is an alarm that is easy to use and exceeds the highest regulatory standards. Our product features a motion sensor with always-on detection that can be used for home automation routines like powering down smart lighting and regulating heating when a room is not in use. With a door/window sensor, any unauthorized entry will immediately set off the alarm. Users can also see the status of a window or door from the app at any time.
Looking Forward, Where Do You See the Smart Home Security Market Heading?
We believe that within the next five years, we’ll see a bit of a shift in the home security market towards proactive security. For Boundary, our focus is on bringing another product to market, one that utilizes machine vision, and to expand into Europe.
For more information on how Boundary used Silicon Labs Z-Wave solutions to deliver professional-grade security to smart homes, check out our?case study?and learn more about?smart home offerings.? If you’d like to leverage the benefits of Z-Wave technology for your smart home applications, we’d love to hear from you.?
In the previous Timing 201 article, Timing 201 #7: The Case of the Dueling PLLs – Part 1, I referred to a Silicon Labs white paper that describes Silicon Labs’ DSPLL nested dual-loop architecture as used in the Si538x wireless jitter attenuators. I first discussed the general motivation for a dual-loop PLL and compared the cascaded (series) dual-loop PLL versus the nested dual-loop PLL architectures.
The practical advantages of the nested dual-loop approach in this example were to reduce the number of tuned oscillators from 2 to 1 and to eliminate the need for a sensitive external voltage control line. The tradeoff for a nested feedback control loop is that the inner loop must be faster than the outer loop. If the loop speeds (or bandwidths) are comparable, then the loops will contend or “duel” with each other.
In this Part 2 follow-up post, I will discuss in more detail how to calculate the phase noise of both these dual-loop PLL approaches.
Some Simplifying Assumptions
To emphasize the basic ideas without getting bogged down in too much detail, I will make the following simplifying assumptions:
Series Dual-Loop Phase Noise Calculations
The figure below is from the cited white paper and previous post. The two PLLs are in series with each other. ?
You will recall that the first PLL, PLL1, is narrowband (NB) and the second PLL, PLL2, is wideband. To calculate the phase noise, we will go left to right through the following steps.
These calculations have been done in the attached spreadsheet Timing_201_7_The_Case_of_the_Dueling_PLLs - Part 2.xlsx. See the “Series Dual-Loop” worksheet. The PLLs are assumed to be 2nd order with the NB PLL BW = 100 Hz and the WB PLL BW = 1 MHz. These parameters can be changed in the spreadsheet, but practically speaking, NB PLLs will be on the order of mHz to kHz. WB PLLs are typically 500 kHz to 2 MHz.?
The resulting plot is as follows.
Nested Dual-Loop Phase Noise Calculations
The figure below is also repeated from the cited white paper and previous post. In this case, the two PLLs are nested with respect to each other.?
Now the inner loop (IL) PLL is WB and the outer loop (OL) PLL is NB. To calculate the phase noise, we will proceed from the “inside out” through the following steps.
These calculations have also been done in the attached spreadsheet Timing_201_7_The_Case_of_the_Dueling_PLLs - Part 2.xlsx. As before, to keep things “apples to apples”, the PLLs are assumed to be 2nd order with the NB PLL BW = 100 Hz and the WB PLL BW = 1 MHz.? See the “Nested Dual-Loop” worksheet. The resulting plot is as follows.
You will note how similar these plots are to each other. Let’s overlay the output phase noise plots together for comparison.
Series versus Nested Dual-Loop Phase Noise Plots
The output phase noise plots are overlaid on top of each other for direct comparison. As shown, they look identical. Further, if you experiment with the bandwidths of each PLL, for each topology, the best output phase noise is generally obtained by making PLL1 (or OL PLL) and PLL2 (or IL PLL) narrowband and wideband respectively. Even apart from stability considerations, both topologies benefit from wide separation between the bandwidths.??
Why the Topological Equivalence?
This result is not necessarily to be expected so let’s walk through the steps again and compare the approaches.
LPF_WB (LPF_NB (Input) + HPF_NB (VCXO)) + HPF_WB (VCO)
LPF_WB * LPF_NB (Input) + LPF_WB * HPF_NB (VCXO) + HPF_WB (VCO)
The use of WB and NB notation versus PLL1, PLL2, IL PLL, and OL PLL is to help us make direct comparison between the two sets of calculations. LPF_WB means apply a wideband low pass filter to the phase noise in parenthesis. Two filter terms multiplied indicates applying both filters.?
LPF_NB (Input) + HPF_NB (LPF_WB (XO) + HPF_WB (VCO))
LPF_NB (Input) + HPF_NB * LPF_WB (XO) + HPF_NB * HPF_WB (VCO)
LPF_WB * LPF_NB (Input) ≈ LPF_NB (Input)
HPF_NB * HPF_WB (VCO) ≈ HPF_WB (VCO)
In other words, the NB LPF and the WB HPF dominate the calculations for these LPF and HPF terms. This is why these topologies produce equivalent total phase noise when all else is equal.
I hope you have enjoyed this Timing 201 article. In this Part 2 follow-up post, I have discussed in more detail how to calculate the phase noise of both the series and nested dual-loop approaches. Finally, by using a simplified example with widely separated bandwidths, we can see that the approaches are essentially equivalent. There are particular advantages to the nested dual-loop approach which arise from an alternate practical implementation that yields phase noise equivalent to the series dual-loop approach. ?
As always, if you have topic suggestions or questions appropriate for this blog, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words Timing 201 in the subject line. I will give them consideration and see if I can fit them in. Thanks for reading. Keep calm and clock on.
RF and microwave frequency synthesizers often employ multiple connected PLLs. These architectures trade off complexity in favor of improved phase noise, smaller frequency step size, and faster switching . In timing applications we may also employ multiple PLLs to combine timing functions and/or shape phase noise.? ?
For example, the white paper, “Optimizing Clock Synthesis in Small Cells and Heterogeneous Networks”, describes Silicon Labs’ DSPLL dual-loop architecture as used in the Si538x wireless jitter attenuators intended for small cell applications .? This particular approach is a nested dual-loop as opposed to a cascaded (concatenated) dual-loop. There are definite advantages to this implementation and some important considerations.
One consideration is the necessary bandwidth relationship between the inner and outer loops. This topic leads to the play on words in the main title of this blog post, The Case of the Dueling PLLs.? A second consideration is the difference in how one analyzes the phase noise for such an architecture, which arises from the fundamental difference between these two approaches as explained below.?
General Motivation for a Dual-Loop PLL Architecture
As you may recall from a previous blog post, there are two basic PLL clock applications :
Low noise references are input to clock generators, which are usually wide bandwidth (e.g., 100s kHz to MHz). By contrast, jittery clocks are input to jitter attenuators, which are usually narrow bandwidth on the order of kHz or less.
But what if your clock application requires both functions? The most straightforward approach is to cascade the two PLLs in series as discussed in the next section.?
Cascaded Dual-Loop PLL Architecture
The figure below, taken from the cited white paper, illustrates a single-chip, cascaded dual-loop architecture. (Note that this sense of the term cascade is different from classic control system terminology. Here we mean two PLLs concatenated or in series.)
In this case, the left hand PLL1 with an analog Voltage Controlled Xtal Oscillator (VCXO) is used as a narrow band jitter attenuator stage.? The jitter attenuated clock signal is then input to the right hand PLL2, which is used as a wide band clock generator stage. The VCXO need not be very high in frequency but should have good close-in phase noise. This generally means a high Q crystal, which is why this component is typically external to the IC. This necessitates an external control voltage signal to the VCXO.
The on-chip VCO needs to be high enough in frequency so that the divided down clock can yield the necessary output clock frequencies. It also should have low phase noise at high offset frequencies.
This particular example is depicted as all analog with several external filter components and sensitive traces. However, there is no intrinsic reason why a cascaded dual-loop architecture could not be implemented more digitally and with filtering on-chip.
Because the PLLs in the example above are in-series and independent, the total output phase noise can be calculated as a cascade of phase noise processing elements as described in . ?
Nested Dual-Loop PLL Architecture
The figure below, also from the cited white paper, illustrates a nested dual-loop architecture. In classic control system terminology, this would actually be considered a variation of a cascade control system. For clarity, I will use the term nested here. Think of it as the PLL equivalent of nested Matryoshka dolls.
In this case, the inner loop (IL) PLL is being used as the “VCO” or rather the Digitally Controlled Oscillator (DCO) of the outer loop (OL) PLL. This is the fundamental difference between these two approaches, which will determine how one calculates the total phase noise.
How does this work?
What are the advantages to this approach?
In this particular pair of examples, we reduce the number of tuned oscillators from two (VCXO and VCO) down to one (XO and VCO). This eliminates the need for one of the loop filters (be it internal or external) and a sensitive voltage control line, which must otherwise be routed externally. This decrease in components makes for a more compact solution which reduces the overall PCB footprint.
Could you implement a nested dual-loop with a VCXO?
Yes, in principle. There is no intrinsic reason why you couldn’t implement a nested dual-loop architecture that also uses an external VCXO.? Such an approach might even make sense if a particular VCXO has better phase noise performance, perhaps at a higher frequency (update rate). However, you would lose the specific advantages discussed previously. This is why the Si538x wireless jitter attenuators do not support an external VCXO.
What exactly is the Duel?
In these types of nested feedback control loops, the inner loop must be faster than the outer loop. If the loop speeds are comparable, then the loops will contend or “duel” with each other.
In PLL terms the inner loop must have a wider bandwidth than the outer loop.? This should make intuitive sense if you consider the relative difference in impact of inserting a really slow “DCO” into an otherwise fast PLL versus inserting a really fast “DCO” into an otherwise slow PLL. The former case significantly impacts the PLL and may even have stability or locking issues due to inserted additional delay. By contrast, the latter case is not impacted significantly. This tells us that the inner loop must be the faster (wider bandwidth) clock multiplier and the outer loop must be the slower (narrow bandwidth) jitter attenuator. Further, it tells us that at start-up and during the lock process, we want the inner loop PLL to stabilize and lock before the outer loop.
Another way of thinking about this is to recall that PLLs function as a low pass filter for phase noise arising from any source in the loop, except when they function as a high pass filter to VCO phase noise. For the OL PLL to modulate the IL’s return path without attenuation, the signal must be well within the IL BW.??
Incidentally, if you want to estimate one quantity from another, such as frequency step rise time from PLL bandwidth, you may use this relationship:
Tr [10%-90%] * BW [3dB] ≈ 0.35
See for example, Howard Johnson’s discussion in the article, PLL Response Time .? Per his article, the time bandwidth product varies from 0.35 to 0.38, depending on whether the PLL behaves closer to a single-pole or double-pole response.
How much faster or wider bandwidth must the inner loop be?? In mechanical engineering and process control systems, the differences in nested loop speeds can be relatively small.? A mechanical IL may be 5x to 10x faster than a mechanical OL. See for example Danielle Collins’ servo loop article in .? However, in timing applications, the difference in bandwidths is typically much greater. Nested dual-loop IL BWs are typically on the order of MHz, whereas OL BWs can be on the order of 10 Hz to 1 kHz, so the ratio is closer to the IL being 1000x to 100,000x faster than the OL.?
Note that for Si538x devices, the IL BW is wide (~ 1 MHz), fixed, and optimized.? Because it is so wide, there is no jitter attenuation at the device’s XO inputs, i.e., the XA/XB pins. Therefore, we should be careful that noise and interference does not couple into the device via the XO circuit at these pins. This is why we recommend low phase noise XOs to be placed as close as possible to the device so as to minimize PCB trace lengths.
Can this idea be extended?
Yes, in principle. The servo control loop article cited earlier discusses a servo motor control with three nested loops, inside to outside as follows: current feedback, velocity feedback, and position feedback. Similarly, you can “triple nest loop” clock PLLs to shape the phase noise to track select input clocks with different phase noise characteristics over different frequency offsets. However, this particular approach is not utilized by the Si538x devices.??
I hope you have enjoyed this Timing 201 article. In the Part 2 follow-up post, I will discuss in more detail how to calculate the phase noise of the nested dual-loop approach using a simplified example.
As always, if you have topic suggestions or questions appropriate for this blog, please send them to email@example.com with the words Timing 201 in the subject line. I will give them consideration and see if I can fit them in. Thanks for reading. Keep calm and clock on.
 W. F. Egan, Advanced Frequency Synthesis by Phase Lock. Wiley, 2011. See for example section 7.1 regarding the Two-Loop Synthesizer where two loops interact via a mixer.
 Optimizing Clock Synthesis in Small Cells and Heterogeneous Networks
 Timing 101 #11: The Case of the Noisy Source Clock Tree Part 1
 Timing 101 #12: The Case of the Noisy Source Clock Tree Part 2
 H. Johnson, PLL Response Time, High-Speed Digital Design Online Newsletter: Vol. 15 Issue 04,
 D. Collins, Why is the bandwidth of a servo control loop important?, April 20, 2017, https://www.motioncontroltips.com/why-is-the-bandwidth-of-a-servo-control-loop-important/
Developers interested in adding Bluetooth connectivity to their IoT designs now have a low-cost option for evaluating the recently announced BGM220P Wireless Gecko Bluetooth Module.?Priced at just $9.99, the BGM220 Explorer Kit includes a USB interface, an on-board SEGGER J-Link debugger, one user-LED and button, and support for hardware add-on boards via the versatile mikroBus? socket standard from MikroE and a Qwiic? connector from SparkFun. Both of these standards are engineered for simplicity and allow for open-source platform development. The hardware add-on support makes it possible for developers to create and prototype applications using an endless combination of off-the-shelf boards from mikroE, sparkfun, AdaFruit, and Seeed Studios. The BGM220P is optimized for wireless performance and is among the first Bluetooth modules to support Bluetooth Direction Finding while delivering up to ten-year battery life from a single coin cell. ?
The Explorer Kit was designed specifically with quick prototyping in mind so IoT developers can go from concept to creation quickly across a wide range of applications. This is a very fast, efficient way to experiment with the BGM220P Module, an ideal device for creating energy-friendly connected applications.
Features at a Glance:?
There are many challenges facing embedded development engineers tasked with implementing effective security measures. Knowledge of what is being protected, the threat landscape, and specific attack vectors to be protected against is necessary. Not to mention the added urgency that comes with overreported, high-profile breaches.
Securing embedded devices is no longer optional. As more products became connected, the primary perceived attack vectors originated from internet traffic, but now entire embedded systems are subject to constant and varied threats.
There are several techniques that developers can employ to make the task of securing systems much easier. Silicon Labs is a founding member of the ioXt Alliance, an industry-led initiative that, with partner collaboration, has led to the creation of eight key principles.
Click here to access the whitepaper.
Principle 1 – No Universal Passwords
Often, high-volume consumer devices are all shipped with the same default password. Typically, users want to deploy their new device quickly, so many do not take the simple step of changing the default password to a new one. Shipping each new device with a unique factory-programmed password is a simple first step in making it more difficult for adversaries to gain access to or take control of, potentially, hundreds of deployed devices.
Principle 2 – Secured Interfaces
Any microcontroller-based device has a multitude of interfaces and ports that can be accessed either locally or remotely. The primary application will use some of these ports during operation and for communications. However, the rest (particularly any that function as external communication interfaces) must be secured. Likewise, any IC-to-IC interfaces (e.g., between the microcontroller and a display controller) must be secured. It is recommended that all interfaces be encrypted and authenticated during use.
Principle 3 – Proven Cryptography
In a world of open and interoperable technologies, the use of industry-recognized, open, and proven cryptographic standards is essential. The use of closed, proprietary cryptographic algorithms is not recommended. The use of open cryptographic standards encourages participation by all developers, engineers and stakeholders so that they can be continually evaluated for potential vulnerabilities against new security threats.
Principle 4 – Security by Default
It is essential that when a consumer purchases a new device, it is already set for the highest possible levels of security. Shipping a product with no or minimal security options configured is liable to pave the way for adversaries to take advantage. The consumer out-of-box security experience should be that all possible security measures are enabled. Developers should not leave a consumer unprotected by default.
Principle 5 – Signed Software Updates
With the increasing number of consumer smart home devices that can update themselves automatically over the air being shipped, the priority is that every update should be signed cryptographically. In this way, hackers are prevented from attempting to update a device with malicious code.
Principle 6 – Software Updates Applied Automatically
Consumers shouldn't have to become administrators of their own devices, faced with the choice of whether or not to update a product's software image. If an update needs to be made, it should be deployed and implemented automatically. Moreover, updates should be applied at times when they will not compromise the device's operation. For example, a smart connected washing machine should not be updated while the machine is in use.
Principle 7 – Vulnerability Reporting Scheme
Often, consumers who experience a problem with their embedded smart home device are unsure who to contact. Has it been compromised? Is there a new vulnerability that should be reported? This principle pledges that product manufacturers will create a means for customers to report problems and communicate their concerns regarding product security.
Principle 8 – Security Expiration Date
As with product warranties, which have an expiration date after purchase, the period during which security updates are available should also be defined and communicated to the consumer. Continuing to support a product with security updates involves continued engineering costs, so consumers need to be able to make informed decisions at the time of purchase. Manufacturers also have the option to offer extended warranties to offset ongoing security updates.
The detailed explanation of the way we embrace these principles can be found in the Silicon Labs – IoT Endpoint Security Fundamentals document.
Security in the Smart Home
We already have far more control over our homes than we could imagine a few years ago, thanks to the IoT, and that is not slowing down. This means preparing for the next generation of cyber criminals will be a challenge we solve as an industry. Our state-of-the-art Secure Vault, has been design to help connected device manufacturers address these evolving threats by protecting from unauthorized access and guaranteeing chip authenticity. Through over-the-air updates, Secure Vault strengthens product security, future proofing, and addresses security regulation without adding cost or complexity.
Secure Vault features include:
To learn more about how cyber threats are evolving and how industry regelation is taking shape, check out our whitepaper, Preparing for Next-Generation Cyber Attacks on IoT.
We were so excited to join Omdia and Acuity Brands in co-hosting a webinar about the challenges and solutions facing developers in the smart buildings space. Our VP and GM of Industrial and Commercial IoT products, Ross Sabolcik, joined David Green from Omdia and Trevor Palmer from Acuity Brands to discuss challenges and solutions facing IoT developers and businesses in the smart buildings space. David facilitated the conversation, and his perspective as the senior research manager at Omdia with a focus on global energy demand invited lively conversation regarding the drivers influencing innovation in this area. While it likely doesn’t come as a surprise that long term savings, cutting energy usage, and improving security are key drivers in smart building deployment, how we’re getting there might not be what you expect.
Click here to watch the webinar replay.
Focus on Energy Efficiency
The energy-saving aspect is galvanizing commercial and residential applications alike, even though one is focused primarily on ROI, while the latter is more interested in user experience. Quantifying the energy efficiency of both is important. This means energy efficiency has graduated from a nice-to-have to an essential component of any smart building project. One of the ways we measure the progress of a smart building application is simply by looking at the number of connected pieces of equipment it utilizes. Generally speaking, this number is increasing by about 10 percent year-over-year and is expected to do so for the next two decades.
And more than half of all new connected equipment falls squarely into the energy domain, including lighting and HVAC applications. These are areas where energy efficiency can be easily quantified, and like most smart device implementations, the more effectively you can demonstrate strong ROI, the faster the market will move towards adoption. An extension of being able to quantify energy savings through connectivity is bringing the same functionality to bear on business metrics, and making sure IT and OT are leveraging emerging technology. According to Omdia, adoption of smart building technology will grow at 10 percent every year through 2025 and beyond, and while energy monitoring?is the single most important use case identified by building/facility managers, it’s not the end.
Integration with Existing Infrastructure
Another key theme was the ability to integrate new smart building technologies – particularly wireless technologies – into existing infrastructure. Facility managers are faced with the dual challenges of harnessing legacy equipment and technology to realize energy efficiency and improve the experience, but also to adopt tools and retrofit technologies that don’t require extensive reconstruction or building upgrades. Bridging this gap is one of the responsibilities that falls to the manufacturers serving this industry. On one hand it’s our responsibility to innovate in ways that allow customers or prospects to be successful with legacy infrastructure or the tools with which they are already comfortable with. We risk alienating the audience if we attempt to force-feed overly complicated technologies to realize gains. On the other hand, how effectively we can innovate on new solutions that can integrate with existing systems with minimal disruption will also be a key variable in adoption. Technology must make it easier to do these things, not harder.
The majority of new applications are being retrofitted into existing systems, and this is a trend we see across multiple industries. From Silicon Labs’ perspective as an IC provider, it’s never been easier to retrofit wireless functionality into a wide variety of applications and systems. That wasn’t the case just a few years ago, when operators might have struggled just getting wireless technology to work, let alone implemented. Now the bigger challenge is creating the most effective use of connected smart building solutions to achieve strong ROI for the end user.
A Holistic Approach to Smart Buildings
Once you create a wireless network for lighting control, the possibilities for that network to deliver additional value add services multiply. Even if you have the right technical solution, you still need to get the most out of it. This is where hardware, connectivity, and software applications need to be considered as a system instead of its individual components. Like a chain, any network solution is only as strong as its weakest link, and vendors should think about how the overall system can contribute dramatically more than just making room temperature more comfortable. A lighting control system for example, can be imagined as a constellation of sensors for a connected building to bring smarter, more efficient operation to more than just lighting. In fact, the savings that can be realized through smart lighting can actually be used to fuel more ambitious applications aimed at solving business challenges. In a retail environment, for example, energy savings is important, but increasing sales or effectively managing customer traffic can have a direct impact on the bottom line.
Traditionally, these problems would be beyond the domain expertise of lighting manufacturers, but more and more connectivity baked into lighting solutions is making it possible to address these issues. Leveraging Bluetooth mesh technology, for example, allows installers to easily go in and provision the network with their cell phone, without having to deal with cloud and gateway connectivity. The ease of installation allows customers to quickly get their buildings connected and consider adding on additional services beyond lighting, including location services and predictive maintenance.
For more information about how connectivity is shaping the present and future of smart buildings, you can watch a reply of this webinar here or check out the latest in smart industry from Silicon Labs here.
We recently had the chance to speak with Kevin Kim, Vice President of Rainus America, a South Korean-based company focused on elevating the retail experience using digital technology. The company’s smart retail solutions allow retailers to update their prices in real time, maximizing retailers’ efficiency and simplifying customers’ shopping experiences with personalized and convenient digital solutions. Customers can also engage with Rainus’ touch display technology in-store. In the interview below, Kevin shares insight on the company’s products and where he anticipates growth for Rainus and the industry in the coming years.
How long has Rainus been on the market?
Rainus was founded in Seong-Nam, South Korea in 2014. We are one of the fastest-growing companies in the world, specializing in electronic shelf label (ESL) technology. Seong-Nam is about five miles south of Seoul, in an area referred to as the “Silicon Valley of Korea.” We set up our first international office in Switzerland, Europe, in 2015 and opened the second one in Tokyo, Japan due to our international business growth. The third one will be in the United States and will open in October of 2020.
Tell us about your products
One of our primary products is InforTab, which is our e-paper display product line. InforTab is a full graphic label based on customized wireless technology and brings huge benefits to retailers such as price automation, store efficiency, accurate pricing, operation cost savings, and additional functions like dynamic pricing. Another product line of ours is called InforTab+ & InforTab+ Touch, a bar-type display suitable for the digital shelf. InforTab+ & InforTab+ Touch can take today's retail store to the next level. This technology can deliver not only price information, but also advertisements via diverse multimedia formats and has a touch display functionality, enabling interaction with shoppers for more customer engagement. InforTab+ & InforTab+ Touch will eventually function as the real-time interaction between the customer and retailer via touch, visuals, and voice, and we have a clear roadmap for making this happen.
We offer a single platform that connects all our product lines. InforTab, InforTab+, and InforTab+ Touch are IoT devices and work with our access points for data transmission. Information to be displayed is fed to the InforTab platform from the customer's legacy system, then transmitted to the Rainus devices whenever necessary. Our network system is very secure, accurate, and robust, ensuring fast data transmission and the widest coverage possible for big organizations.
Most of our customers are grocery retailers, though we are seeing growing demand across other sectors, such as drug stores, health and beauty, and consumer electronics. The common issue retailers are currently encountering is a store inefficiency. Price changes for all products in a store take at least a couple of days with a conventional method.? Also, a price mismatch between the Point of Sale system and a paper label is another pain-point for retailers. With InforTab, prices of products can be automatically changed in real-time, which brings operational excellency to stores. The ESL providers are trying to improve it’s the technology’s accuracy and robustness. At Rainus, our core technology uses a concentric network system with a minimum infrastructure cost and a maximum number of ESLs, providing the highest level of accuracy and robustness within the industry.
How do your products differ from others on the market?
We take a lot of pride in the high performance of InforTab's advanced architecture. This capability sets us apart from others in the market. Recent benchmarks with potential customers in Japan continue to prove our leadership in performance. For example, after several rounds of an intense performance test, a leading electronics retailer selected us as a sole ESL provider, where we then successfully deployed 200,000 ESLs in a single store, which is record-breaking in our industry. At this time, no other company can support this many ESLs with the lowest server specification.
From a shopper's perspective, they can see the right price and information at the right time. Near Field Communications (NFC) embedded InforTab gives an enhanced customer experience by allowing them to use their mobile phones. Tapping phones on InforTab can link shoppers to product details or reviews on their own phones.
Why did you decide to use Silicon Labs?
Silicon Labs has cutting-edge technology and is known as a leader within the industry. We are currently using the Silicon Labs FG22 Series 2 Wireless 2.4 GHz SoC. We are very happy with the performance capabilities of the wireless solution and the excellent Silicon Labs technical support we have received throughout our product design life cycle.
How do you see your company evolving in the next 5 years?
Our company initially started out focused on ESL, and there is no question our ESL solution is our primary business. As demands grow in other sectors along with retail, we expect to see more opportunities to integrate smart retail technologies. We have a lot of R&D and partnership activities underway as we see the growth potential for a transition to a broader IoT business. Many people are talking about digital transformation, yet we are seeing huge changes in retail right now. Smart retail technology will play a much greater role in people’s shopping experiences in the future. Many consumers and businesses have yet to imagine the new conveniences and operational gains to be experienced by digitalization. Rainus is excited to be involved in such a rapidly changing industry and we see smart retail technologies evolving into all types of retail environments in the future.
To learn more about how our FG22 Series 2 SoC optimizes retail ESL?technology, check out our Rainus case study.
On a family ski trip Peter Celinski unexpectedly found himself negotiating his way down an expert trail, when suddenly he became aware of the need for a hands-free way to communicate with his more experienced companions – which happened to be his young children. This was the catalyst for Milo, and as its founder and CEO, Peter is setting out to provide outdoor sports enthusiasts with something they’ve never had before – hands-free group communication. He describes Milo as an “action communicator,” and it’s the first fully integrated communication device designed specifically for outdoor adventure sports. It’s also the first device of its kind to integrate audio and network connectivity, which means no Wi-Fi or cellular connection is necessary.
2020 has incentivized many of us to take to the great outdoors as a way to socialize at a socially acceptable distance, but who wants to yell at each other over the crashing waves or risk taking our hands off the handlebars so we can push a button on a walkie-talkie? Milo offers a way to speak to others in your group without pushing any buttons or yelling over the action. The networking functionality also allows Milo devices to create their own mesh network, making it possible for up to 16 people to communicate with each other at a range of up to 600 meters, with a low latency, high quality voice experience. That range can be extended further with Milo devices making it possible for transmission to hop from one device to another.
Peter has spent three years developing his idea, and the Kickstarter he launched in support of Milo is dramatically outperforming expectations. In fact, Peter has taken orders for nearly 10,000 units and expects to begin shipping by the end of the year – just in time for ski season. There were two key challenges Peter needed to overcome to deliver on his vision: high quality audio and reliable connectivity. Being able to hear everyone in the group clearly while careening down a hill on a mountain bike required paying a great deal of attention to the acoustic design, including microphone placement and the audio processing algorithms that suppresses background noise. The second critical element he knew he had to get right was the proprietary mesh networking protocol, which he’s nicknamed “Milo Net Protocol.” The team developed the custom protocol with the explicit goal of bringing reliable voice distribution in dynamic conditions.
Peter invested a lot of time evaluating a range of radio options from various vendors with an eye on performance, low power, and flexibility – all of the elements that would be necessary create a great user experience. Ultimately, the Silicon Labs Flex Gecko SoC was selected because of its ability to deliver on these three requirements.
On Tuesday, October 27th, we’re excited to team up with global technology researchers at Omdia to explore some of the challenges facing smart building development. Ross Sabolcik, Silicon Labs’ Vice President and GM, Industrial and Commercial IoT Products, will be joined by Senior Vice President of Digital Lighting Networks at Acuity, Trevor Palmer, and Omdia’s David Green as they discuss the what needs to happen to deliver on the promise of smart buildings and the importance energy monitoring will play.
Attendees will learn how wireless connectivity will be one of the key drivers to the workforce emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, through the adoption of flexible solutions that make it possible to return to the workplace. These same developments will feature applications,?including predictive maintenance,?occupancy sensors, and HVAC/lighting remote monitoring,?that address the number one end-user goal for smart buildings – energy efficiency.
Key topics of discussion will include:
Register for the 45-minute session here, and be sure to stick around for the live Q&A immediately following the conversation. ?