How Health And Auto Requirements Drive IoT Design

IoT needs to support a mix of sensors with secure, safe and dependable computing and communication—and all at the lowest power consumption possible.


One of the fun parts of my job is that I am looking at the requirements of our customer’s customers quite a bit to understand where to focus our efforts on the tool side. As a follow on to my last post “System Design Enabling The Human Intranet,” this month I am looking at the requirements imposed on system design by health and automotive applications as they were discussed at DATE in Grenoble last month.

Giovanni De Micheli presented on health-related aspects with experiences drawn from the Nano-Tera initiative that he leads in Switzerland. Its intent is to “bring Switzerland to the forefront of a new technological revolution, using engineering and information technology to improve health and security, and to broaden our management of energy and the environment.” (And here I thought Switzerland is known for knives, watches, cheese and bank accounts).

The Nano-Tera initiative exploits new technologies and devices, integrating electronics, sensors, computing and communication. Its objectives include building heterogeneous systems that monitor health in patients, the disabled and the elderly, as well as monitoring the environment for pollution and to prevent disasters. The final goal is to leverage engineering to increase the well-being of individuals and communities and to help communities cope with complex societal and economic problems that require large and collaborative intellectual efforts.

De Micheli called it the “bio-information revolution” and set it up as a triangle between genetic information (referring to, medical records (referring to and consenting informed and educated patients. He gave a couple of examples, including continuous real-time monitoring of metabolites for chronic patients related to glucose, lactate and cholesterol using multiple measurements calibrated in T and pH. For that they are looking at a wireless implant with remote powering from a hub on the skin, combined with secure transmission to medical providers via a cellular network or the Internet. The mechanical, optical and electrical sensing technologies integrate electronics and sensing, leveraging modularity and decreasing non-recurring engineering costs. De Micheli singled out low power design as essential, for the sensor design itself, as well as for compression and transmission of data. He also alluded to platform-based design techniques combining specific components like probes, electrodes, chambers and fluidic circuits with electronic components like trans conductance amplifiers, data conversion, transmission and powering. The platform graphic that De Micheli used included signal processing for the data conversion.

As to high-level challenges, De Micheli outlined three:

– Security: No medical information can leak to other parties, and no unauthorized access is allowed to occur from non-authorized sources.
– Safety: Under no condition can the health device be a threat, and safety must be guaranteed for both the patient and operator.
– Dependability: All devices must work a long time in possibly harsh conditions, and they need to support graceful degradation mechanisms, i.e. are not allowed to switch from “working” to “off” but need some type of acceptable intermediate set of states.

Bottom line, for health, system design in the non-server area of the IoT needs to support a mix of optical, electronic and mechanical sensors with secure, safe and dependable computing and communication, all at the lowest power consumption possible.

These requirements are surprisingly similar to some of the automotive requirements that were outlined by Juergen Hornung of Bosch. In his presentation, he concluded that vehicle connectivity is changing all areas of the automotive industry – engineering, production and service. In engineering, functions can be distributed outside the vehicle boundaries and test fleets can be modified and monitored on the fly with little effort. In production, tests can be executed almost during the full production cycle, leading to shorter cycle times. Hornung was referring to a further increase of in-line flash programming with ECUs potentially becoming “empty” standard units. In service, the vehicle manufacturer has access to vehicle data throughout the vehicle lifetime, opening the possibility to even detect failures even before a symptom can be recognized. Especially in the service area, a lot of legal questions on data protection need to be clarified as there is a high risk of hacker attacks.

What does that mean for EDA and the development solutions we provide to the electronics industry? Aside from the “high-end” challenges for server and application processor chips, the area of edge nodes requires advanced design for low power. Tools need to enable and also follow standards for safety and security in these application areas – think ISO 26262. All the sensor design will require advanced analog mixed signal design. And last not least, verification and proper system design for all the system scenarios a device needs to support will continue to be key areas.

Application Specificity-Final-Waze

On a personal level, I am also looking forward to the non-technical discussions related to IoT connectivity and effects it has. One item that really resonated with me in De Micheli’s presentation is the notion of the health device never being a threat, as well as proper fail-safe mechanisms and graceful degradation.

This is not only a health issue. Let’s assume the car is the “thing” and its position, speed and direction is the sensor information collected in the network. The graphic above shows an example Silicon Valley situation very personal to me: “Get me from Cadence to Cupertino by 6 p.m.” Now the sensor information in the car definitely has active impact on my environment, as I am using Waze and it literally sends me a different route every day — with the exception of the obvious 101 to 85 option that never seems to be the right answer at that time. These changing routes affect the traffic around me and it comes to no surprise that in some cases — like this one on LA — not everybody is happy with the results as the routes may go through neighborhoods not prepared for more traffic.

Well, aren’t we having all the fun with new electronics challenges to solve, which then in exchange have interesting societal effects? What a great time to be in the electronics industry!