Earlier this year, Tom Simonite published an article in MIT Technology Review titled “Wanted for the Internet of Things: Ant-Sized Computers” that included a review of our Kinetis KL02 chip. The article highlights its size: 1.9mm2 X 2mm2, which makes the KL02 is the smallest 32-bit MCU in the world. And thanks to ARM’s powerful M0+ core, it brings robust real-time embedded processing capabilities to enable what Dr. Prabal Dutta of the University of Michigan calls “smart dust.”
After the article was published, I was bombarded with emails from a variety of individuals and what seemed to be very small start ups (lots of gmail addresses!). Instead of the usual referral to our regular channels, I reached out to a few of those individuals directly to find out about their applications, and that’s when I realized that the maker movement is where IoT edge node innovations will happen. If you are a DIYer (do it yourselfer) geek like I am, by now you must have attended a few Maker Faires where enthusiastic engineers of all ages gather against a backdrop of a handful of low-cost boards and sensors to create gadgets that would be the envy of McGuyver.
Thanks to ARM, one can now get access to the latest MCUs from their licensees such as Freescale, and all the tools you need to program the device, along with the development boards in form factors such as Freescale’s Freedom development platform or Arduino boards for less than $15 USD. Add some good old fashioned desire for creativity, and that is the recipe for the non-linear explosion of innovations.
When you are focused on enabling the IoT, you will inevitably be interacting with the maker community enablement in a variety of ways.
After JavaOne, where we introduced our one box platform along with our partners Oracle and ARM, I headed to the UK to attend the Weightless Summit. Freescale was one of the sponsors of the event, and we are working together on developing a Kinetis MCU + Weightless Modem combo on a Freedom board form factor for the maker community. The video in the middle of this page shows some of the talks around the technology and its roadmap, including the module that will enable the maker community to innovate around the Weightless standard.
A week later, I was at the 2013 M2M and Internet of Things Global Summit in Washington DC, and again the topic of the maker community came up in an interesting way. One of the panels was dedicated to the financing of the Internet of Things, which included Chris Rezendes (President, INEX Advisors LLC) a long time supporter of the maker movement. As it turns out, it used to take on average $6M of series A money and two years for a start up to produce a prototype of a product that could then get meaningful customer feedback and a VC could judge if they should invest in the next round.
That number has now dropped to less than $150K and 6 months, thanks to the Maker Movement and low cost development kits such as the Freescale Freedom development platform that are available in the market. For a while, VCs were not funding hardware any more, and now hardware development has become an afterthought, because of the above phenomenon. This means a huge acceleration of innovations by smaller start ups and hobbyists alike.
Because I am so excited about the Maker Movement, when I was contacted by the organizers of the Electronics Rocks conference, which is the premier maker show in Bangalore, India, I gladly accepted. When I presented at the eRocks 2013 show last month, more than 1300 maker enthusiasts gathered to share ideas and learn from each other. My presentation was about the one box platform (read more about one box in this blog and this blog). During the event, I shared the partnership with Oracle and ARM, and how one box brings a secure service delivery platform for IoT related applications, and is based on open standards. When I mentioned that the reason for the open platform is to promote innovations by smaller players such as the Maker Movement, the crowd who had attended my talk became excited with applause. Also, when I mentioned the role Oracle would be playing via porting Java ME to small MCUs for edge node products, and to unify IoT, again it was clear I had hit an extremely positive note for the crowd.
After my talk, a large crowd formed around me, further probing into details about our one box platform, specifically how they could get their hands on it. The level of enthusiasm for ARM and Oracle on a Freescale platform was high, and the fact that this was an IoT platform extending itself to the maker community, made it even more popular. After leaving the auditorium area and as I was walking the halls and looking at the exhibits, it was clear that ARM based platforms and tools had a special place with the maker crowd, and one could almost say that ARM was clearly at the heart of the maker movement. When I asked one of the exhibitors about his views on the maker movement, he said “ARM has democratized building hardware, with low cost and much easier to use hardware-building tools, which are more broadly distributed around the world, so now the Indian engineering community has as good a chance as any western engineering community to be a part of the IoT product development.”
At the Electronics Rocks show I also met Priya Kuber of Arduino India who showed me their latest innovation at the Arduino booth - an electronic drum set using fresh bananas. It was sitting next to a plant that would ask you for water when it was thirsty, and thank you when you water it ... now that’s fresh electronics! By the way, that 6 months and $150K series A funding for prototype, according to a VC at the eRocks show, was around $35K and 4 months in India.
My interactions with the maker community around the world has made me realize how pervasive this movement has become, and how much it is THE key to low cost innovations that will propel the IoT market from an edge node and wearable devices perspective. It is clear to me that whether you are a fan of Adafruit’s Limor "Ladyada" Fried or not (I am a big fan!), geeks are cool again and nothing is indeed geekier or cooler than building your own unique gadgets and showing them off at a maker event!
Kaivan Karimi is Executive Director of Global Strategy and Business Development, MCUs at Freescale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.