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Libelium chases cloud, preps third-party hardware integration overhaul

Spanish sensing provider Libelium has begun a transformation, expanding from its impressive range of sensing hardware and trying to shift the focus onto its Meshlium gateways and supporting software services. With a new cloud partnership with NEC, and a new code-free programming service to support its sensors, Libelium’s CEO Alicia Asin explained the reasons behind the transition after a decade in the sensor business.

Simply put, Libelium knows that it can’t provide all the hardware needed for the variety of sensing applications in the IoT – and that trying to do so does not scale. Instead, it hopes to provide the gateway services using its Meshlium hubs, and expand its software services too – all while fostering a cloud partner ecosystem that can support the third-party sensing hardware.

It’s a significant evolution in the expansion strategy, which saw Libelium launch the IoT Marketplace 18-months ago– which, as the name suggests, is an online market that sells complete kits for particular IoT problems. The solutions contain third-party hardware and services, and are marketed as a simple way to solve a variety of problems – from air quality monitoring, to golf course irrigation. The IoT Marketplace is now up to 70 kits, spanning 12 verticals, and combining 57 partners.

Shifting from upfront revenues to a recurring revenue model would help even out cash flows – an approach that many companies are pursuing, across many verticals. Asin said that there are no plans to encroach on the cloud partners, and would like to develop complimentary tools and services, for its gateways and software.

The company is piloting integration programs, and has more devices in the pipeline. Industrial monitoring is one area that Waspmote has not traditionally catered for, and there are plans there, but Asin noted that Libelium is now keeping the political climates of the smart cities in mind.

The city tenders typically ask for very specific things, and by pitching an all-or-nothing offering, you risk getting nothing. Noting that this is the new competitive landscape, where tenders overlap, Asin says Libelium is very keen on using partnerships to its advantage. These customers are typically asking for air quality sensing and parking solutions.

Agriculture is another area that Libelium’s Waspmote plans to pursue, especially for crops that have shorter sales cycles that need more careful management. Aquatic farming is another area, but more from a compliance standpoint – as many Asian companies face difficulties in overcoming quality concerns from Western markets. Sensing applications could provide the trust needed to tap these potentially lucrative new markets – using sensors not for efficiency, but for compliance.

Asin said that around 95% of current revenues are from sales of Waspmote, and Libelium is certainly not trying to get rid of the business. Rather, it is trying to move the focus to Meshlium, with an expansion of the Meshlium cloud integrations. NEC is the latest addition to that list, which also includes AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Bluemix (now IBM Cloud), PTC’s ThingWorx, as well as a plethora of smaller providers. The telcos have also bought in, with Ericsson and Telefonica on board.

The new approach, according to Asin, aligns well with the vendor lock-in fears that many smart cities hold, providing the option of moving to other hardware or platforms. To this end, Libelium is working on a standard for semiconductor vendors to use, which would make integrations easier – although Libelium is undecided yet on whether to make that an open source standard.

Making it easier for third-party developers to enter the Meshlium ecosystem would help address the more niche applications that Libelium doesn’t want to support. It would also allow current sensor providers to expand their own portfolios and tap into a new platform, and collectively bring more to the table than Libelium could hope to do by itself. It removes a significant support and development burden.

The new system, the Programming Cloud Service, aims to let a developer program an IoT sensor in just a few minutes, without requiring coding. The service uses a web-form to identify what needs doing, and then generates the code automatically. Libelium says it will reduce the R&D time needed for these developers, speeding up the time to market.

But another major advantage will come from improved security. In theory, Libelium should be able to guarantee that its engineers provide code that is secure and up-to-date with the current environment, which should mean that security vulnerabilities in the code shouldn’t be introduced by developers that might not follow best practices – or simply don’t know how to code properly.

The customer gets a quicker deployment time, and doesn’t have to experiment with their code and devices, and Libelium gets to sell those benefits as a service – a win-win for both parties, in theory. It should appeal to small developers that might not have the expertise in-house, but also to larger companies that don’t want to hire in those skills or set up dedicated IoT departments. It’s a move to compete with systems integrators, by making the deployment process simple enough to do it yourself.

The form lets you select sleep-cycles, sensor frame data, and networking options, and then generates the binary code needed in a few minutes. Libelium’s CTO, David Gascon, said “after more than 10 years of experience in one of the most complete IoT programming APIs in the world, we have realized that out clients look for simplicity: they just want to use the full programming potential in one click.”

It is currently being offered to just its Waspmote sensor hubs, but Libelium plans to add support for its MySignals health platform and SmartParking. The service is being provided in a licensing model, with different tiers to manage different numbers of devices. Libelium says the approach doesn’t require SDKs, APIs, or compilers, with Gascon noting that you only need a web browser to work. The company will make the libraries and compiler available for experience developers though, who want to code using all the available API options and their own binaries.

In other Libelium initiatives, Asin said that MySignals had a total redesign for its second iteration, adding more healthcare sensors to the telehealth system and making its integrations more straightforward. Healthcare is a very difficult vertical to crack, owing to its regulation, but Asin said there was strong interest – especially for fitness applications that don’t require the same kind of FDA and regulatory approval as healthcare apps.

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