Is the IoT Revolution Happening Where You’re Not Looking? Q&A with IoT Development Platform Maker Anaren Wireless Group

Off the beaten track enterprises need connectivity, too.

Not long after the Anaren, Inc. Wireless Group announced the upcoming release of its Atmosphere 1.5 version development platform, Mark Bowyer, the company’s director of wireless business development, spoke with EECatalog about the platform and Anaren’s plans.

EECatalog: What is Anaren bringing to the table?

Bowyer_thumbMark Bowyer, Anaren: Although companies such as Amazon have IoT platforms for people to work with, the problem is that nobody is offering a service solution that is a combination of hardware and software. Our unique value proposition is that we offer the hardware and the methodology to connect the sensor to that hardware. And that hardware can communicate in an appropriate fashion to the Cloud, so data can be represented in a meaningful and valuable fashion.

If you’re an embedded guy with experience in microcontrollers, our tools enable you to deploy a demo website with graphical interfacing, and create the sensor interconnected to the microcontroller and to the wireless device connectivity and then to the Cloud. You can do everything in that chain to a degree that creates a tangible demonstration, which is more likely to be invested in than a PowerPoint.

If you were to start out tomorrow with a plain sheet of paper and say, “I’m going to develop an IoT solution, very quickly you’re starting to write down a number of new employees or external partners and vendors to get to where you need to get to. What Anaren proposes is the ability to deploy something exceptionally quickly that proves a point without those upfront resources. From there you can get the required investment to put a larger team together.

EECatalog: How are you seeing customers use what Anaren offers?

Bowyer, Anaren: A software engineer may be looking at our platform because the value proposition of their business is based on web analytics. For them the challenge is to take it from the real world to enable their web analytics. So as far as they are concerned, an easy way for them to make that happen is through our platform.

And on the embedded side, an embedded engineer who has spent all his life building very complicated code sets for microcontrollers and how they interface with the outside world through sensing elements and connectivity has now acquired a unique capability to deploy a web instance that backs up the data being created from the real world connection. Whether that is accelerometers, temperature, humidity, light, whatever—we’re now able to give that to those people to do it.

We have a kit for $30 and we can ship it to you in 24 hours. You can connect it to your laptop computer and design mobile apps with connectivity to BLE devices in 30 minutes.

EECatalog: What are some examples of the capability Anaren offers being put to use—is there a particular niche?

Bowyer, Anaren: One of the major influences in the IoT adoption channel is that 60 percent of the enterprises adopting connectivity in their product portfolios are predominately under $1 million in revenues. For instance, an architectural LED lighting company that has expertise in lighting and optics but not in connecting wirelessly or in creating a mobile app or web presence where data can be stored.

We have found that our niche is helping such enterprises as electric bike developers and companies that are off the beaten track. So much is possible now. For example, imagine a tray you place in your pantry that you calibrate with products you use often like ketchup, and soda, or flour, and it keeps track of their weight. And, when you’re running low it reports to the cloud and reorders from your favorite store and is replenished automatically by mail or local delivery.

These types of things are really what’s driving that commercial/industrial IoT revolution to unfold in the most unlikely areas, and those are the areas where we are finding most of our success.

EECatalog: What’s ahead on your roadmap?

Bowyer, Anaren: Our roadmap clearly shows us introducing WiFi; it shows us introducing combination platforms, which have WiFi, Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and then also looking at Bluetooth and BLE combinations. And then at a later date we’ll explore other standards like ZigBee, Thread and 6LoWPAN—protocols that will ultimately make the development platform agnostic to the connectivity.

It will be based more upon the customer’s need and demand for the connectivity segment and what best fits that. Should customers indicate they want ten years of battery life, a relatively medium range, and small data packet transmission infrequently—you [the user of the Atmosphere development platform] would say, “THIS protocol is a better fit for that. “ Then you would drag and drop that into your design environment and start making connections into it. Next, during your build process, you would output the embedded code required to work on the given module with that standard embedded in the module.

And this process I’ve just mentioned would be the same if the customer said, “I don’t care about power; it can be plugged into the mains; I am going to be sending rather large packets very frequently,” where WiFi would be the better choice.

Atmosphere 2.0 will continue to add more and more protocols creating more and more of a unique value proposition for our customers looking for an appropriate connectivity solution.

We are in a very exciting stage of growth in our platform and in our adoption levels, we have thousands of current customers that are using our design platform; we see a huge amount of interest in what we are doing moving forward.

We will continue to add protocols, we will continue to add more unique features, we’re adding more and more sensor companies as partners, where all the sensors and the drivers for the sensors will actually be in a library that is part of Atmosphere so that you can open the library and select your preferred manufacturer’s sensor with your preferred sensor function, and drag and drop that into your build environment, and all the drivers and associated APIs are automatically connected to the connectivity device.

I think it is a very exciting time and I think as we move forward the utility of our platform and our ability to support our customers for their rapid prototyping, and for them to get product out fast, prove a point, create IP quickly and secure that IP is going to be absolutely critical when you consider IoT as a platform itself creating such widespread enablement.

IP is going to be an important part of the success of anybody entering this field: getting their idea out there, securing their idea, locking it down, making a deployable solution and then creating a loyal customer base that will purchase and then keep purchasing that product.

EECatalog: How does this new offering tie into Anaren’s history?

Mark Bowyer, Anaren: What we are talking about is a significant departure from Anaren’s historical product range. We’re a 50-year old company with products currently in space for beamformers and satellites. As an electronic warfare subsystem provider, we have many platforms in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps in the U.S. and worldwide. In addition we manufacture the components used in cellular base stations and nearly 200 million components a year, manufactured in our Syracuse, New York facility, go into Samsung mobile phones.

EECatalog: Even though Anaren is venturing into a different market, I can see where there would be issues, such as security, which are common to both markets.

Bowyer, Anaren: We were lucky enough to hire a group of engineers that came out of a military security based software company in Rome, New York. So with them, at the very basic core of [the Atmosphere] design and platform is tight and effective security profiling. So security is a strength for us.

These guys are using unique key access and throwaway key access after you have accessed your data and left and are ready to return. They are using a number of technologies that are equivalent to AES 512. It is a huge part of what we do, but we don’t tend to talk about it much because Anaren historically is a hardware company that makes modules and enabling tools so our customers can easily use those modules.

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