We recently spoke with Gregor Bader, senior embedded software developer and team leader DC-FW, and Martin Buber, co-founder, from Microtronics, an Austrian company that’s been on the cutting-edge of IoT development since 2006. What we find fascinating about these IoT Heroes is that they are essentially serving as a springboard for companies to realize their IoT ambitions. Here’s how the firm helps breathe life into the IoT journey for their customers, democratizing IoT access for the entrepreneurs and innovative companies that will help propel the Internet of Things into the Internet of Everything.
For those totally unfamiliar with you, tell us about your business.
We started out in 2006, so we have 10 years’ experience in the market. Microtronics was started as a spin-off of INAUT Automation GmbH and later that year we were awarded the Karl Ritter von Ghega innovation prize.
Simply put, we play in the M2M space; that’s our specialty. You bring us your potential product portfolio, and we help you make it smart. We help you meaningfully connect it to the IoT—the actual nuts and bolts of getting your device efficiently collecting and sharing data, talking to whatever or whoever it is suppose to talk to.
It’s our goal to help you turn your idea into a market-ready product, and we can do it in three weeks. It’s not easy, and it takes the right combination of software, hardware, and service. Bringing these elements together in one ecosystem is how we help our customers go from proof-of-concept to market availability.
I like your emphasis on “meaningfully” connecting to the IoT. Can you elaborate?
Of course. We don’t want our customers to just throw some sensors on any and every product they have, to succumb to this pressure that maybe everything they do has to be smart. We want to help our customers focus on their best and brightest potential entrants into this space, to bring the best of their business thought alive in the IoT, making their participation really relevant in the process. It’s all about creating true value for what really matters—the end-users—and not losing focus on that.
We also like helping our customers be nimble in terms of their overall IT solution for their connected devices. We often see companies that are trying to force their smart devices to fit into existing networks and classic IT infrastructures to their detriment. The IoT requires scalability, and we want to see people deploy solutions that can painlessly scale and show real stability as well.
We’ve been using GSM modules from Silicon Labs since the beginning. And starting about four years ago, we’ve been using the EFM32 Giant Gecko 32-bit MCU and have built our rapidM2M product family on this device.
Connectivity has become critical for staying competitive for many companies, can you walk us through the process you go through with customers?
Today, improving upon a product usually means adding some level of connectivity. Soon when you see an everyday object, a coffee maker for example, that isn’t connected to the Internet you will wonder why that is.
With customers, we start with the concept. They bring us an idea and we discuss the business model, either their existing model or potential ways to address the market. This is where we define requirements and get an idea of what to expect. After that, we move to proof-of-concept. This is where the application script is developed and we’ll demo a web app. Finally, we’ll pilot the project by integrating the module and application script into the customer’s product. After this, it’s ready for production.
Can you tell us about some of the applications you’ve been a part of?
We have several recent projects that demonstrate the value of connectivity in places you might not think about it. One example, Payuca, is best described as Airbnb for parking spaces. Payuca really wanted to develop an app that took the anxiety out of parking. Users can search for a parking space in the area they need and proceed directly there without wasting time circling for an empty space. We built that application with a Bluetooth low energy module, RFID scanner, 3G modem, and, of course, the EFM32 Giant Gecko 32-bit MCU. What’s really nice is that parking garages that are available for the users can be opened over BLE with either iOS or Android when they arrive.
Another project was with a company called PaketButler, and we helped them build a low-power lock system that people can use to secure packages outside their homes, for either sending or receiving goods. It’s powered with a 2G modem, Bluetooth, and Giant Gecko. After authentication via Bluetooth, the lock opens up for the user and they can pick up packages or leave one securely for the recipient.
We also helped Fieldeye® create a visual condition monitoring system for agriculture that’s really interesting. It lets customers monitor temperature and precipitation of crops in harsh conditions, enabling targeted, efficient use of pesticide and fertilizer. The photos as well as the rainfall and temperature records can be saved and analyzed over time. For this project, we used Giant Gecko with a parallel Linux cluster for image capture, two 13MP cameras, a solar panel, and a 3G modem.
And earlier this year we announced a partnership with T-Mobile Austria to launch its “IoT Box” product, which further democratizes the Internet of Things by giving customers the ability to integrate systems, websites, and smartphone apps.
Fears about security are obviously always a huge component of IoT development and discussion, especially for new entrants to the space. How do you educate your customers about security?
We are very much in the camp that security is not a distinct step, that it’s an ongoing, continuous, layered process. We also advise our customers that if they stack two or three IoT vendors together as their solution—all with different interfaces, updates, etc.—that they could be opening themselves to vulnerabilities in the long term versus having one secured solution where we’re controlling the whole software stack end to end continuously and fluidly.
What market trends have you observed in your company in terms of particular industries making really pertinent strides in IoT right now? Any trends you expect in the future on that topic as well?
Honestly, we have a very diverse client base. I can’t say there seems to be more innovation right now in any one segment now or in the foreseeable future. There is an incredible amount of exploration going on, so many talented people across all these fields really pushing the envelope and wanting to explore how the IoT can positively impact and advance their space. Creatively, we are living in exciting times.
In your opinion, what does the future of IoT look like?
We see the millions of device categories becoming part of the IoT. In addition to the proliferation of connected devices, we see miniaturization becoming part of the landscape as well.