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Cloud-connected embedded devices and IoT a growing opportunity for tech startups: Microsoft

Thursday, 1 May 2014 | By Andrew Sadauskas

The internet of things (IoT) and cloud-connected embedded devices represent a growing opportunity for Australian tech startups, according to Microsoft's general manager of IoT, Barb Edson.


Microsoft recently announced it is making its Windows for Smaller Footprint Devices embedded operating system available for free, with devices connected and controlled through Microsoft's Azure Intelligent Systems Service platform.


Speaking at a conference in Sydney yesterday, Edson acknowledges there are many devices not running embedded versions of Windows, including simple sensors, embedded Linux, QNX or other embedded operating systems. Those devices connect through an agent on the device or through a gateway that allows it to connect to Microsoft's cloud-based service.


For developers, Edson says Microsoft is making a limited public preview of its Intelligent Systems Service available for free.


"We're very excited about evangelising the Windows platform itself to the IoT developers," Edson says.


"Now, on the cloud services, it's a very heterogeneous, because if it's a sensor or a device that's going to run a non-Windows operating system.


"And from a startup perspective, the cloud enables them to have a very low cost of overhead and immediately get their business up and running.


"So if you're a startup developing a device, we would absolutely encourage you to check out the free public preview and you can apply for that."


During the conference, systems integrator Talent demonstrated an implementation of the Azure Intelligent Systems Service platform in the London Underground, which currently has 451 IP-connected end-points including ball-bearings in escalators, video cameras and temperature monitoring devices. Embedded systems and sensors around the stations feed that information back into the system in real time.


The back-end of the London Underground's system allows data from the embedded devices to be monitored in real-time, which can in turn be fed into an ERP system or be used to investigate where predictive maintenance is needed.


Meanwhile, Coca-Cola Amatil demonstrated a vending machine with embedded digital display screens, including a transparent front screen. The device was created in collaboration with agency TKM9 digital and is designed to comply with Australian Safety Standards. By being connected to the internet, the fridge can amend the prices or products it advertises in real-time based on external factors such as time-of-day or temperature. The fridge includes Kinnect sensors, cameras, embedded Windows, and apps remotely-deployed through the Windows Azure cloud service.


Edson says the demonstrations show how startups can apply Microsoft's platform to their own IoT projects.


"If they're manufacturing a particular device, perhaps a consumer device that goes in the home, business-to-consumer or business-to-business, Intelligence Service will enable their journey in a low cost way without having to build all that infrastructure," she says.


"It's a solution that's out of the box, but at the same time extensible, with a software development kit so they can make it uniquely their own."


Edson says Intelligent Systems Service is like other Microsoft products, such as Dynamics or Office 365, in that it is a development platform third parties can extend.


"The Intelligent Systems Service is an iOT solution that will be the end portal, from an embedded device perspective, where you can connect that device to the cloud, you can collect data off that device and you can manage that device," she says.


"And then there will be a finished portal that will allow the device operator to understand the 'heartbeat' of the device, see the different data coming off the device, and then you can throw that into other systems or other file formats.


"If the finished portal isn't 100% of what you want, or you want to create a completely custom portal, you can do that through the software development kit."