Markku Riihonen, Global Products and Business Development Manager, 4D Systems EMEA GmbH
The infrastructure to support the Internet of Things is evolving, and a large part of that infrastructure is what we now call the cloud. As the IoT matures, it is pioneering new concepts such as distributed intelligence; edge-nodes that operate autonomously, creating and acting on data that is passed to the cloud and accessible from anywhere. Thanks to the concept of APIs (Application Peripheral Interfaces), accessing data stored in the cloud and generated by edge-nodes is becoming simpler every day. With a growing number of edge-nodes creating huge amounts of data that can be accessed through the cloud, the IoT is maturing at an incredible rate.
Many of the edge-nodes in question will be relatively simple sensor nodes, monitoring a wide range of parameters. The information they feed into the cloud is creating Big Data; information that is used in the Industrial IoT and elsewhere to help increase efficiencies in many vertical markets, such as power generation, distribution and consumption for example. A of lot of that same data is now available to all kinds of commercial developers and hobbyists through APIs, often at little or no cost.
As well as generating data, edge-nodes can also access data in the cloud and use it locally. An example may be sensing the temperature differential between the inside and outside of a residence. If the homeowner has created a rule to maintain a certain temperature through natural ventilation, an actuator could use this information to ‘decide’ to open a window, for example.
Accessing and displaying this kind of ‘low level’ data can be achieved relatively easily using a wide range of single-board computers. Integrated Wi-Fi connectivity makes accessing data in the cloud simple, and with the addition of a display, an internet-connected module could be used to display data gathered from anywhere in the world.
This level of openness within the the IoT and its data has given rise to what 4D Systems terms the ‘Internet of Displays’ (IoD); modules that integrate everything a developer needs to create an intelligent edge-node for accessing and displaying cloud-based data. The gen4 IoD Display Modules are an example. They are based on a highly-integrated System-on-Chip from Espressif that comprises a powerful 32-bit processor with extensive peripherals and a complete Wi-Fi sub-system. The ESP8266 is extremely small and requires very few external components, which has enabled 4D Systems to create a range of low cost but highly capable display modules that are easy to use and suitable for many IoD applications.
A prime example of this is a module that can display the temperature and humidity for a given location. The data is easily and freely accessible through an API, from a company called Weather Underground. The gen4 IoD is supported by 4D Systems’ own Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for developing Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs); Workshop4. This is available as a free download from the 4D Systems’ website. The module itself is compatible with the Arduino environment, so it is also necessary to download and install the Arduino IDE, along with the ESP8266 community board manager files. Workshop4 uses a ‘drag and drop’ approach to GUI design and includes widgets for many functions, such as the thermometer widget and ‘cool gauge’, both of which would be used in the weather station example project. Obtaining the ‘raw’ data from Weather Underground requires signing up for the API, then it’s a relatively simple process of issuing GET requests to receive data back, which can then be displayed locally.
This is one example of how ubiquitous technology is enabling everyone to access or add to the vast amount of diverse data now available through the cloud. With the introduction of highly integrated and capable Intelligent Display Modules, accessing and displaying that data is now even simpler. With minimal development, using APIs and simple commands, Hobbyists, Makers and OEMs have the opportunity to develop applications and become part of the IoT’s evolution.