IBM and hardware partner Libelium hope to cut through the complexities of the so-called "Internet of things" through a do-it-yourself kit allowing users to test and deploy sensor networks.
The companies on Monday introduced the Waspmote Mote Runner, a computer that can collect and share data with other devices within wireless range. IBM is providing the software tools while Libelium is making the hardware, which will include sensors to collect weather, server temperature and other information.
The hardware is a motherboard with sensors for gases, oxygen, carbon dioxide, temperature, motion, light, soil temperature, GPS and others. The board comes with standard interfaces including Ethernet and serial interfaces, so it can be plugged into existing hardware like smart meters or installations like solar energy plants.
Waspmote Mote Runner is priced at €1,550 to €2,550 (US$2,121 to $3,489), depending on the types of sensors on the board. The product is targeted at enthusiasts and scientists looking to deploy complex mesh networks in which sensors exchange data, IBM said. For example, geologists could collect data with the help of the board and meteorologists could collect weather data.
IBM is positioning the device as one way to expand into the area of the Internet of things, in which low-power devices are data-gathering instruments that can send and receive data. These devices usually have wireless communication capabilities or are connected to the Internet.
There are hugely diversified devices, networks and protocols being used to collect and transmit data, said Thorsten Kramp, an IBM scientist.
"It's a mess," Kramp said. "We wanted to make it much simpler."
IBM is providing software tools called Mote Runner so programs can be written for the device using Java and C-Sharp. The tools support a range of data transfer protocols being proposed for the Internet of things including MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport), which has been adopted by many hardware and software makers.
With the kit, users will be able to simulate a mesh network in which data is collected and transferred, Kramp said. Programming is simpler as the APIs (application programming interfaces) are smaller.
Also new is support for the next-generation IPv6, which will drive data transfers over the Internet in the future.
This is not IBM's first foray into the Internet of things. IBM uses sensors in its servers to collect temperatures and other information, and the company is working with some hardware makers to test other sensor network installations. But this is one of the few do-it-yourself kits being offered through the company.
Networks and programming tools are becoming more complex with the increase in the number of devices and the type of information gathered, Kramp said.
Some low-power sensors are not enough anymore and more processing is needed to analyse data before information is transmitted. Applications need to be written for sensors to handle complex data patterns and to determine where the information needs to be sent.
"The larger your network is getting, the more difficult it is to get plain data out," Kramp said.
IBM is also working with the Internet of Things-Architecture consortium to define a standard around data transfer protocols and device interconnects. The development effort is partly funded by the European Union, with consortium partners including Siemens, NEC, Hitachi, Alcatel-Lucent and others.