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Modular Embedded Design to Accelerate IoT Proliferation


Explore how you can introduce modularity in embedded product development to reduce time-to-market and cost, by using Computer on Module. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Modular Embedded Design to Accelerate IoT Proliferation


Modular Embedded Design to Accelerate IoT

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  • Modular kitchens are widely popular in households
    nowadays. It leverages the concept of modularity
    to add convenience, customization and optimize
    cost. In simple terms, modularity means that a
    system can be built by assembling many small

Modularity is used extensively in many industries
such as transport logistics, packaging,
software and many more. The benefits are enormous
in terms of reduction of system development time
cost and addition of scalability, convenience,
and customization. In this article, we will
explore how adopting modular approach in embedded
development of IoT devices can accelerate the
proliferation of IoT. Before we move ahead, lets
start with some basics. First coined by Kevin
Ashton back in 1999, the phrase has evolved a lot
over time. In simple terms, the phrase can mean
Pervasive Connectivity. IoT promises an era, in
which discrete things or objects are connected
through internet or other connectivity mediums,
and these objects individually or collectively
achieve some meaningful result.
  • Few fields that are showing promising IoT
    applications are Smart Homes, Smart Cities,
    Security Assistance, Connected Vehicles,
    Industrial Automation, Healthcare, Wearables, and
    many more. With the advent of pervasive
    connectivity, cognizance has entered into the
    non-living realm. Things or objects can now take
    autonomous decisions based on some events,
    without human intervention.
  • Although the IoT ecosystem is colossal, at the
    ground level, it is supported by embedded devices
    that has some processing power, memory, and some
    real world connectivity interfaces (I/Os) such as
    UART, Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. Embedded
    devices such as sensors and gateways play an
    important role in driving IoT. Sensors are
    compact, power-efficient, application-specific
    devices that monitor the ambient environment and
    pass on the information, using internet or other
    connectivity medium, to a gateway that processes
    the data and take some actions. As gateways may
    receive data from multiple sensors, they
    therefore need some processing power, memory and
    a set of connectivity interfaces. An industrial
    plant monitoring system can be easily made with
    few sensors and a gateway.

  • The sensors can monitor variety of parameters
    such as plant temperature, vibration, humidity,
    etc. and pass on the information to a gateway.
    The gateway receives the data and checks for any
    faults. In case of any abnormal condition like
    high humidity, it can send a message to the
    smart-phone of the plant technician. In case,
    everything is normal, then the gateway can upload
    the data to a cloud-server for analytics and
    maintenance records.
  • Now, lets take a look at the embedded
    development of sensors and gateways. Usually,
    sensors are simple, application-specific
    standardized, micro-controller based devices. The
    gateways need to be versatile in terms of
    computing, storage and connectivity requirements,
    thus the embedded development of these devices
    becomes a bit challenging. There are many
    standardized gateways available in the market
    however, there may be scenarios where these
    gateways shall not fulfill your price,
    performance, power, or connectivity requirements.
    In the remaining article, we will explore
    constraints in various embedded platforms that
    are currently employed for development of
    embedded devices such as gateways and then make
    an attempt to showcase how concept of modularity
    can be leveraged to reduce time-to-market and
    development cost of IoT devices.

  • Product Development from Scratch or Chip Based
  • Usually, OEMs prefer to develop the hardware and
    software from scratch as it offers them total
    control over the project and they can customize
    the platform based on their requirements. The
    hardware components such as SoC, memory, power
    supplies, multimedia connectivity interfaces,
    peripherals, display, etc. are integrated over a
    printed circuit board (PCB). The software stack
    including device drivers, board support packages,
    UI, application, etc. are developed either
    in-house or some parts are outsourced by the
  • Constraints
  • Boost NRE (Non-Recurring Engineering) cost High
    investment in engineering development, design and
    test as the product is developed from scratch.
    Further, product development time is long that
    leads to inflated engineering cost.
  • High input cost Usually, sales volume of
    embedded products is low. So, OEMs cannot
    leverage economics of scale in low volume
    procurement of critical components such as SoC,
    Flash, RAM, and thus pay higher price.

  • Long time-to-market As the development happens
    from scratch, the development time increases, and
    thus long time-to-market.
  • High development risk With scratch development
    of hardware and software, there is a high
    probability that things may go wrong at any
    level. This adds significant risk to the project
    compromising time-to-market and development cost.
  • Questionable scalability With Moores Law in
    action, the silicon components such as SoC, are
    getting matured in terms of performance,
    power-efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.
    However, it is impossible to scale up an embedded
    platform developed from scratch, as the CPU,
    memory, and I/Os are integrated on a single PCB.
    It needs a redesign that is time-consuming and
  • Product Risk There is a substantial risk
    associated with the supply chain of the
    end-product in case any silicon components (SoC,
    RAM, Flash memory) reach End of Life.

  • Single Board Computer (SBC)
  • SBCs offer a ready-to-use embedded platform on a
    single PCB for developing any end-product. The
    OEMs select single board computers that are best
    suited for their requirements and then develop
    the end-application. Although, SBCs are
    application-ready, they suffer from few
  • Constraints
  • Not scalable It is not possible to scale up or
    adapt your application developed on a SBC, as the
    CPU is closely coupled with the I/O section on a
    single PCB.
  • No customization Customizing a SBC, based on the
    OEMs requirements, is not possible as the I/Os
    are already fixed on the PCB.
  • Fixed size Space constrained applications may
    struggle to use SBC as the size and I/O
    configuration may not be ideal.

  • Currently, low-cost SBCs such as Raspberry Pi and
    BeagleBone are really popular in the embedded
    market. These open-source and community-backed
    platforms can also be used to develop IoT
    products. These SBCs are ideal for DIY and
    academic projects. However, these SBCs are not
    appropriate for commercial development of
    embedded products.
  • Not industrial hardware (temperature range,
  • No committed or dedicated support in terms of
    software and hardware.
  • Product lifecycle is not guaranteed.
  • No product change notification policy.

  • Introducing modularity in embedded design
  • An embedded platform can be represented as below


The Application Agnostic part consists of
essential design commodities, including the
processing memory requirements. This part may
not differ much whether the end-product is a
medical device or a home-automation product,
assuming the processing and memory requirements
are somewhat similar. This Application
Specific part constitutes both the hardware and
software, depending on the application and OEMs
requirements. OEMs can differentiate their
products from those of their competitors by
adding value to this part, as the end-user
interact and experience this part. A Computer
on Module (COM) or System on Module (SOM) is a
cost-effective, reliable and ready-to-use
computing solution that consists of the
application-agnostic hardware and software.
System developers can focus on the
application-specific part by using an
off-the-shelf COM, and thus accelerate
time-to-market without compromising on product
development cost and risk
Figure 1 Details of Computer on Module
  • The revamped architecture after using COM is
    shown below.

The combination of an application-agnostic COM
and application-specific carrier board, which
houses the I/Os on a PCB, along with display and
peripherals, offers a complete platform for
developing any end-products. The COM can be
inserted into the carrier board through some
standard connector such as SODIMM connector in
the image below. Many COM suppliers also offer
off-the-shelf compatible carrier boards.

Figure 2 An illustration of Viola - A small
form-factor (74 mm x 74mm), ultra-low cost
Carrier Board from Toradex
  • Usually, off-the-shelf carrier boards may not
    fulfill packaging, I/O configuration, functional,
    cost, and size requirements for a specific
    application, so OEMs prefer to develop and design
    their own carrier board. Development of custom
    carrier boards can be really made easy in case
    the layout and schematics files of compatible
    carrier boards are shared by the COM suppliers.

  • The Build vs Buy Dilemma
  • Usually, OEMs prefer chip-based development
    however, as mentioned above, there are many
    constraints in this approach. A COM addresses
    these constraints effectively.
  • Reduce development cost COM vendors procure
    silicon components such as SoC, Memory, etc. in
    high volume, thus pay less than OEMs for their
    low volume procurement. By using an off-the-shelf
    COM, OEMs can leverage economies of scale to
    bring down input cost. Further, OEMs can only
    focus on developing the application-specific part
    of their product, and thus reduce NRE cost.
  • Accelerate time-to-market As the COM offers an
    application-ready platform, OEMs can accelerate
    the time-to-market for their products.
  • Reduce development risk COMs are extensively
    tested by the suppliers and other customers, so
    OEMs can significantly reduce their product
    development risk by using COMs in embedded
  • Platform scalability Some COM suppliers such as
    Toradex offer pin-compatible Computer on Modules
    with a variety of performance, price, and I/Os.
    OEMs can easily scale up their platforms to
    accommodate future market demands and latest


Figure 3 Pin-compatible COMs from Toradex
  • Toradex is a Switzerland based company that
    designs and develops ARM based COMs powered by
    Freescale i.MX 6 Vybrid, NVIDIA Tegra, and
    Marvell XScale PXA SoCs. Apart from offering an
    extensive range of pin-compatible COMs, Toradex
    stands out in the embedded computing market with
    its product reliability longevity, free premium
    support and transparent pricing. Toradex also
    offers schematics and layout files of compatible
    carrier boards, so customers can easily develop
    custom carrier boards suiting their
  • Access to latest technology Usually, market
    leaders of silicon components such as SoC, Flash
    memory, do not engage with low volume customers,
    so OEMs may struggle to get access to latest
    technological advances. COMs vendors ensure the
    adoption of such technologies in the embedded
    devices by engaging in large volume business with
    market leaders of silicon components.

  • COM/ SOM for IoT products
  • It can be summed up that COM/ SOM offers an ideal
    platform for developing embedded devices
    including IoT products. IoT is still in nascent
    stage and many discussions around IoT create more
    questions than answers. Growth of IoT is
    restricted by many issues such as lack of uniform
    communication standard, ambiguous revenue model,
    questionable utility, security threat, etc. We
    can expect the IoT products will evolve gradually
    to alleviate these issues. So, the embedded
    platform, which is the foundation of IoT, should
    be scalable and flexible to adapt as per future
    needs. With advances in semiconductor technology,
    we can expect advanced security features that
    will make the silicon components more ideal for
    IoT. Migration to the latest semiconductor
    technology is easily possible in an embedded
    platform using COM, as the processing memory
    section is isolated from the I/O section.
  • Toradex is ideally placed to meet the demands of
    IoT market. It offers ARM based COMs at variety
    of price, performance, and power to match the
    diverse needs of IoT market.

  • Further, the availability of connectivity
    interfaces such as Gbit Ethernet, PCIe, SATA,
    CAN, and many more industrial interfaces, makes
    these COMs suitable for wide range of IoT
    applications. The COMs are pin-compatible, thus
    upgrading the platform, based on future needs and
    technology, is feasible without any re-design
    effort. It also offers standardized carrier
    boards that are compatible with the COMs. Custom
    carrier board development is also easy as the
    carrier boards schematic and layout files are
    freely downloadable. Customers can easily use
    these files as reference for designing their
    custom carrier boards.
  • IoT will have a tremendous impact on enhancing
    our lives in future. We will see exponential
    growth of compelling IoT applications however,
    the cost of adoption will also determine user
    acceptance and market penetration. Therefore, the
    foundation of this IoT pillar should be flexible
    and cost-effective to drive the IoT
    proliferation. COM/ SOM offers an ideal platform
    or foundation for making this possible.

Thank you!