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Startup unleashes low-cost, secure, IoT cloud service

Jul 1, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Ayla Networks announced a partnership with USI to develop wireless modules enabled with Ayla’s “Internet of Things” connectivity platform. The Ayla Platform, unveiled last month, offers a cost-effective way to implement secure device-to-device communications via an embedded software or hardware component, and provides end-user access to Ayla-enabled devices via Android and iOS mobile apps.

Announced in early June, the Ayla Platform lets embedded manufacturers and service providers build kitchen appliances, thermostats, water meters, lighting, fitness equipment, medical devices, and other gadgets that can interconnect with each other and their users via a cloud service.



Ayla’s Internet of Things perspective
(click image to enlarge)

 

About the Ayla Platform

The Ayla Platform is built on a set of high-level, data-centric APIs that can be implemented two ways. In higher-end embedded devices, such as those running Linux, the Ayla CloudConnect Stack can be implemented via a small-footprint Ayla software agent. For simpler devices lacking advanced OSes, Ayla’s software agent can reside directly within microcontroller-controlled communications modules, such as USI’s newly announced Ayla-enabled WiFi modules.



Ayla platform components
(click image to enlarge)

 

In addition to the CloudConnect Stack, other key components of the Ayla Platform are the Ayla Cloud Services (ACS), and a set of Ayla Application Libraries (AAL) used for creating Android, iOS, and web browser through which users can control and monitor Ayla-enabled products from their smartphones and tablets.
 

Ayla benefits

According to Ayla, manufacturers will benefit from the platform because they will not need to consume resources developing specialized networking, security, and connectivity protocols for their devices, thereby reducing development costs and speeding-up time to market. The technology also lets them create mobile apps, so their customers can track their devices remotely or directly, thus enabling cheaper devices that don’t necessarily require buttons or LCD screens.

In addition, manufacturers can more easily send updates to devices, receive anonymized feedback on device usage for marketing purposes, and use cloud services to provide remote technical support and maintenance, says Ayla. Finally, the platform enables device-to-device communications via WiFi and short-range ZigBee wireless technology, which is widely used in home automation.

Ayla Platform features are said to include:

  • Simple app-driven end-user registration without need for product keys
  • UI for configuring “virtual devices” for the Ayla cloud without requiring extra code
  • Device-to-device communication via WiFi and ZigBee for swapping data and executing rules
  • LAN auto-detect for ultra-low latency enabling communication even when broadband connection is unavailable
  • Remote diagnostics and management, providing vendors with detailed info about the health and use of their devices, and performing firmware updates
  • Access to third-party cloud services via RESTful APIs , supporting “features that take advantage of location, weather, air quality, and other data
  • Configurable messaging and alerts
  • 128-bit encrypted SSL security, PKI device authentication
  • Anonymization of user data for privacy

The Ayla Platform is vaguely similar to what Digi is providing with its Etherios-based Device Cloud technology, as well as Eurotech with its Everywhere Software Framework. However, Ayla’s service works on a universal level that can be applied to any device, not just devices from a specific vendor.
 

Two ways to implement Ayla’s services

In an interview with LinuxGizmos, Alya cofounder and CTO Adrian Caceres discussed the two approaches for designing Alya’s cloud service into devices (illustrated below). One way is to incorporate the Ayla Connect Agent into the device’s OS stack, as shown on the left, below. The other, illustrated on the right, is to include a small Ayla-enabled network interface module, with the Ayla Connect Agent embedded directly within its microcontroller firmware, as part of the device’s hardware design.



Two ways to incorporate the Ayla Connect Agent into a device
(click images to enlarge)

 

For many device makers, particularly those focused on real-world appliances including home energy management systems, irrigation controllers, or smart refrigerators, using an Ayla-enabled network controller module like the USI WiFi module shown on the right will be the quickest, easiest, most reliable, and maybe even the least expensive approach. The latter benefit results from having a proven Ayla-compatible component.

With either approach, however, Ayla expects the cost to device makers to be low enough that it will be readily offset by the perceived value of enhanced functionality, or by cost savings from substituting an Android or iOS device app for a built-in touchscreen user interface.

Although Ayla is not ready to make the details of its API public at this point, Caceres said “the high-level concept is for a <key, type, value> mechanism. For example, let’s say you have an oven and you want to upload its current temperature and store it as an integer; the basic command to send the current oven’s temperature to the cloud could be: <”CurrentTemp”, integer, 250>.”

Ayla’s device agent source code is proprietary, but is provided free and without royalties, according to Caceres. The company plans to make money by charging manufacturers a per-product licensing fee for use of Ayla’s cloud services. As a result, the Ayla cloud service can be added to a design’s BOM (bill of materials) in the same manner as a BIOS license or a hardware component.

In any case, the Ayla Platform does not impose a cost burden on Android or iOS development or the cost of the resulting Ayla-enabled apps. “Our philosophy is that Device or Mobile side code should be free and without royalties,” he said. “We provide the source for our mobile side libraries today. We would like to provide source for all the software that runs on top of Linux as well, but the timing of this hasn’t been finalized.”

Ayla’s overall strategy is to eliminate the need for users of Ayla-enabled devices to pay monthly or annual fees for having access to its cloud services. Instead, service for the entire life of the device should be part of the device’s BOM cost, just like with a hardware component or a BIOS license. “Until today, this hasn’t been possible because it has been so expensive. With Ayla, it is extremely affordable,” adds Caceres.
 


Ayla Design Kit
(click to enlarge)

Ayla Design Kit

Ayla has also developed a $399 hardware-based Ayla Design Kit. No hardware details were supplied for the kit aside from a photo, and it’s unclear if it supports Linux. Ayla did say, however, that customers receive access to about 5-20KB of microcontroller driver source code. Also supplied are demo applications, Ayla application libraries, and access to an Ayla Developer Portal and support site.
 



Ayla-enabled control application examples
(click images to enlarge)

 

More about USI’s Ayla-enabled WiFi modules

As mentioned earlier, Ayla and USI last month jointly announced two Ayla-enabled USI WiFi modules, the WM-N-BM-09A and WM-N-BM-14A. The block diagram below shows the internal architecture of the USI WM-N-BM-09, on which the Ayla-enabled “09A” version will be based.



USI WiFi module module block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

 

The USI WiFi modules use Broadcom’s Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) platform, which includes a Broadcom BCM43362 Wireless LAN MAC/baseband/radio, an embedded processor, and a “self-hosted” WiFi networking library and software application stack. Devices containing one of USI’s modules will be able to link directly to the Ayla Platform by communicating through a choice of either the USI module’s SPI or UART ports.
 

Other Ayla news

In its launch announcement, Ayla, a Silicon Valley startup founded by executives from Amazon, ZeroG Wireless Cisco, Matrix Semi, and other tech firms, said it had raised $5.4 million in funding. It also revealed technology partners in Broadcom (wireless chips), STMicroelectronics (STM32 microcontrollers), Amazon Web Services (cloud), and SCV (web apps).

Ayla later announced its first customer: SINA, a major Chinese Internet provider that also owns the Twitter-like Weibo service. SINA is incorporating the Ayla Platform into a small, low-cost Wi-Fi Weather Station that will be widely deployed to track microclimates with block-by-block weather reports.
 

Availability

An Ayla Design Kit is available for purchase now for $399 from the company’s Ayla Design Kit page. More information about the Ayla Platform may be found at Ayla Networks. Ayla Platform pricing for device manufacturers is not publicly disclosed, although Caceres would like to see it be sufficiently affordable that companies will “build it in without a second thought.”
 

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