Blink’r: IoT moving Customized Design to the Edge
May 4th, 2017 by Peggy Aycinena
Before you can design something for the IoT, you need a platform upon which to construct your design to keep development costs down, and before you can build that platform, you need to understand what the IoT actually is. And to do that, it’s useful to start with entrepreneur Baoguo Wei, founder of Phoinix Technologies and the company’s Blink’r IoT-in-a-Box tool set.
When we spoke recently by phone, Wei said: “I’ve been in the industry long before it was called IoT. When I came out of school, my first job included a project where we needed to measure the contents of the fuel tanks in a fleet of trucks spread across different locations, something that required data collection. We built our own radios and a back-end for the data.
“At the time, the back-end was not called the Cloud, it was called a Server and we used an algorithm to solve the problem.”
He chuckled, noting it wasn’t the Cloud then, because that infrastructure was still being built out. Similarly, only when the infrastructure for the Internet of Things began to appear, did the thing get its name.
Previously, the IoT had other names, according to Wei: Embedded systems, Connected systems, and sometime Machine-to-Machine, M2M, systems. Only recently has it become the IoT.
“Today,” Wei said, “the IoT is a connected hardware piece that connects to the Cloud, and also has some kind of software piece that interfaces with people.”
Despite the newness of the term, Wei has been involved in this technology for a long time.
“Over the past 15 years, I have been directly involved in the IoT,” he said, “for instance as a developer at AgaMatrix, a blood-glucose monitoring company. After the iPhone was developed, we were the first ones to connect glucose meters to the phone.
“At the time, in 2009 and 2010, that was very hard to do, particularly because the FDA said: What? A phone? They simply did not know how to regulate such a device and we did not want to be in the medical devices business.”
That effectively ended AgaMatrix, Wei said, so he moved on.
“Fast forward to today,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of my friends get into the IoT and seen the hardships and barriers they’ve faced trying to break into the market.
“Based on my own experience, I know IoT development includes the hardware piece, getting the data online which is the software piece, and after that your own back-end Server or Cloud. From there, you need a web app for a mobile device, whether it’s an Android or an iPhone, that can interface [with the user].
“All of this involves a lot of teams – firmware, software, hardware, and engineers for the front-end, for the back-end, for testing. You need that many people just to get the prototype. It’s quite a problem and one I understood, even when I was head of R&D at AgaMatrix.
“Which is why I now see an opportunity to offer an alternative – one that does not need so many people and also provides a way to develop an IoT prototype in just a month, or even a week. This is the goal of our Blink’r tool set.
“With Blink’r we offer preset everything. A Cloud and a mechanism [to interface] between people-on-people and machine-to-machine. And on the device side, all the necessary connections – wired or wireless – to the Internet, with an interface to the sensors on the other end.
“Blink’r contains a module that has all the built-in peripherals to interlace between machines and people, including USB and PCI, all helping to interface with the sensors.
“Together, our module and our Cloud back-end and virtualization platform provide an IoT-in-a-Box. Once it’s powered up and connected to a sensor, it’s basically all you need to get the prototype done.
“With a team of one or two people, you can build a prototype in just a few weeks, rather than a few months or years.”
Although Blink’r is new to the market, I asked Wie if he has any customers for the platform as yet.
He replied, “Currently we have two paying customers.
“One is in the IoT app for Smart Net space. Basically they have sensors for temperature, humidity, motion and gas, and they have a gateway with a secure WiFi connection. Using our platform, they have done a back-end prototype from concept to production in just six months. Our other customer is working on the Smart Home space.”
Other potential customers are obvious, Wei said: “Getting back to fleet management – utilizing IoT devices, [you can track] a fleet of vehicles. Where are they, what is their condition, and are they carrying easily perishable stuff that you want to guarantee won’t go bad due to [poor fleet] management.
“These are the kinds of problems that can be solved by merging IoT devices and the Cloud, and I don’t just mean the Cloud like Amazon. The Cloud can be anything, it all depends on the industry because in some situations people don’t want their information on the Cloud, just in a private Cloud.”
I mentioned a long-standing resistance in the EDA industry to move to the Cloud.
Wei made a comparison between chip design and manufacturing and shoe design and manufacturing, noting that both could utilize the IoT to move custom design to the Edge.
“Using an IoT device, a customer could personalize his own shoe design,” Wei side. “He could send his size information directory to a shoe factory, who could make a custom pair of shoes. The senor measures his foot and that information being sent to the Cloud, and on to the factory for personalized shoe manufacturing.
“Similarly, for the chip industry: Although at AgaMatrix we used commercial off-the-shelve chips. At some point, we started thinking we should design our own ASIC. But we didn’t go that route, because the up-front costs were so expensive.
“Now if a designer, or a whole team, wants to produce only a hundred or a thousand chips, they might also go to customized production.
“With the IoT, you could see the costs going down, so that even small [runs] of customized chips would be possible. The chip manufacturing process as it exists today is designed for mass production, but utilizing the IoT correctly would allow for design of a product not targeted at a mass market.”
“It may sound crazy today,” Wei concluded, “but the IoT is going to make all of this possible.”
Blink’r bio …
Blink’r was recently featured at a Mass Innovation Night at Bentley University.
This is how Blink’r was described there: “Seamlessly interact M2M (Machine to Machine), P2P (People to People), and M2P (Machine to People) experiences with Internet Module‘r and the blink’r tool set.
“Integrating powerful hardware, Cloud back-end, data visualization and developers environment that works right out of the box. Removing the barrier and reducing the development to deployment time for innovative technology and data-driven insights.
“Smart, simple and affordable Internet Module’r includes a quad-core A53 process for endless possibilities. Pre-synced 2G/3G/4G, WiFi, Bluetooth and more, to connect anything to anywhere. Web GUI includes a growing list of templates, APIs and libraries to ramp up, update and accomplish fast development.”
Tags: AgaMatrix, Baoguo Wei, Bentley University, Blink'r, IoT-in-a-Box, Phoinix Technologies