NFC Forum KEOLABS IoTize Case Study

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NFC Helps IoTize Connect Legacy Systems to the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) promises a world of benefits, including more efficient business processes, reduced costs, and increased innovation. As everything from medical equipment to automobiles gets equipped with network-connected sensors, massive amounts of data will be captured and securely transmitted across data networks. Analyzing this data will lead to new insights and better decision-making. Juniper Research is forecasting 38.5 billion connected devices by 2020 — an increase of 285% over 2015.

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The challenge: connecting the unconnected

KEOLABS’ IoTize™ is a solution that enables the Internet of Things by adding NFC connectivity to any existing electronic system.

However, while manufacturers are now building intelligence and network connectivity into all kinds of products to support IoT, one large segment of the market has remained shut off from its potential benefits: legacy industrial systems. It’s been estimated that 50% to 75% of legacy industrial systems are not yet network-attached. That’s a problem, because many industrial systems have long lifespans — up to 25 years — and the only way to provide connectivity has been to redesign the machines, a long and costly process.

These unconnected machines have no means of sharing or transmitting their data and no intuitive user interfaces. This prevents organizations from gathering and analyzing the data for decision-making and from deploying new IoT-based services, such as remote support, diagnostics, and maintenance.

This situation prompted Francis Lamotte, then engineering vice president of KEOLABS, a French-based supplier of application development and testing tools, to imagine a better way. As a company with a heritage in embedded systems, monitoring and maintenance tools, KEOLABS knew that if a product had an embedded processor with a debug port, there was an opportunity to tap into that processor and get at its data.

KEOLABS’ engineers knew an NFC-enabled smartphone could do the trick.

But how to provide the network connectivity and a rich, customizable user interface while ensuring data security? As long-time members of the NFC Forum, KEOLABS’ engineers knew an NFC-enabled smartphone could do the trick.

With NFC filling that vital role, Lamotte and his team soon developed and patented IoTize™, a solution that enables the Internet of Things by adding NFC connectivity to any existing electronic system — without modifying its initial design. IoTize ihas been commercially available since early 2016.

The solution: an NFC-enabled plug-in module

The main component of IoTize is the connectivity module, which contains a co-processor that supports NFC and the direct connection of the module to the debug port of a system’s microcontroller. Modules with Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi support are also available. Slightly larger than a quarter, the connectivity module plugs into the microcontroller debug port of a product’s embedded electronic system. It supports local security measures at the module level, including the definition of user profiles (login/password, access rights to specific variables) and the encryption of the smartphone-to-module communication channel.

By providing easy one-tap connectivity between the IoTize connectivity module and the user’s smartphone, NFC is a key component of the solution.

The connectivity module is complemented by the IoTize Communication Service, an Android (4.0.3 or later) app that supports the RF connectivity. Developers and third parties can create their own Android apps for particular use cases.

By providing easy one-tap connectivity between the IoTize connectivity module and the user’s smartphone, NFC is a key component of the solution. NFC technology enables the collection of machine data and, if desired, uploads it to the cloud. In addition, NFC has unique power saving features; an NFC-enabled device or object only consumes power when activated by a nearby RF field of another NFC-enabled smartphone or reader. NFC also makes connections more secure, because it only works when the user is present and has actively initiated the connection. As a consequence, NFC also provides the assurance that the user is connecting to the correct machine, which is of particular importance in a connection-crowded environment, such as a manufacturing facility. In addition, a simple tap of an NFC-enabled device can initiate pairing with other RF interfaces, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, enabling IoTize to work in a variety of network environments.

NFC/IoT Opportunities:

Having demonstrated connectivity is possible and risk-free, IoTize is now inspiring prospects to define new IoT business opportunities around their newly-connected objects.

The response to IoTize has been overwhelmingly positive. In February of 2016, the solution won the embedded AWARD 2016 for innovation in hardware at Embedded World 2016. The KEOLABS team has been demonstrating IoTize to companies involved in industrial automation, such as Schneider Electric, as well as systems integrators.

“The thing that really excites prospects is how quickly it can be set up,” said Steve Gussenhoven, KEOLABS’ MCU account and marketing manager. “We sit down with companies, plug a module onto their machine, configure that module via the NFC interface, and start running a smartphone application that displays the variables that we’ve configured. We can go through that process in less than an hour. That’s where the glimmer of opportunity shows up in their eyes.”

Having demonstrated connectivity is possible and risk-free, IoTize is now inspiring prospects to define new IoT business opportunities around their newly-connected objects.

Two of the most common use cases are system configuration and maintenance and monitoring.

System Configuration
Machines, when deployed and installed, require some contextual information to function correctly. Using IoTize, system installers can leverage the smartphone interface or app to quickly and easily create a specific machine configuration. With the configuration parameters set in the smartphone app, the installer taps the NFC tag and maintains the connection while the unique identifier of the machine is read and the configuration is transferred. The installer then launches a verification app that confirms the coherence and validity of the configuration. The history of these actions is transferred back to the manufacturer with the installer’s credentials via the smartphone’s Internet connection. Back-end systems stock all relevant information and trigger the start of the customer’s guarantee and service contract.

Maintenance and Monitoring
In this use case, the machine is authorized to connect to a permanent long-range, low-power monitoring network. The installer uses NFC and the smartphone to make the connection and validate the machine. Then the installer wakes up, configures and opens a long-range, low-power interface, which is then used for permanent monitoring of machine status and alarms. When an alarm is detected, the installer uses NFC to connect to the correct machine, signs the machine out of the monitoring network, corrects the problem, and verifies correction via the NFC interface. When everything checks out, the installer returns the machine to the monitoring network. All information about the intervention is sent to the cloud via the smartphone’s cellular network.

The results: an award-winning innovation

NFC/IoT Opportunities:

  • Management of embedded secure elements
  • Remote server-based authentication
  • Information/ data management
  • Industrial environment efficiences

As prospects and partners plan their IoTize strategies, KEOLABS is ramping up its first mass production of the IoTize module and developing future models that address particular use cases, such as adding management of embedded secure elements and remote server-based authentication. There are also other capabilities of IoTize to be exploited, according to Gussenhoven.

“Because IoTize is an RF interface with a coprocessor means that we have some processing capability that’s autonomous to the application,” he explained. “We can use that capability to, for example, compare information, only capturing data that’s interesting, such as data that represents a warning condition or a precursor to a system failure. In this way, we can send a snapshot of the critical information rather than swamping network connections and servers with irrelevant data.”

KEOLABS sees these and other capabilities as opportunities for systems integrators in vertical markets to create and package IoTize solutions for particular needs. Opportunities also exist for partners on the cloud side to collect, analyze, and disseminate information gleaned from IoTize solutions.

As these opportunities are pursued, NFC will remain an essential element of IoTize solutions.

“NFC has the particular advantage of appealing to people who need to know what they’re connecting to, to avoid the risk of connecting to the wrong machine,” said Gussenhoven. “That gives us reason to believe that the future of NFC of IoT is extremely strong, even in an industrial environment.”

As players in the IoT space become more aware of what NFC brings to IoT, KEOLABS has been in contact with the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), an industry consortium whose goal is to help unify IoT standards so that companies and developers can create IoT solutions and devices that work seamlessly together. KEOLABS wants to ensure that OCF includes NFC among the connectivity technologies it supports.

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