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15 May 2015

Samsung unveils Artik platform for IoT devs, Sigfox’s San Fran LPWAN

Continuing its push into the IoT, but more importantly away from its diminishing smartphone business, Samsung unveiled its Artik development platform at IoT World in San Francisco. The new open platform includes three hardware modules as well as all the necessary code to develop apps to run on them – all powered by Samsung’s own Exynos chips.

For Samsung, this is a move away from its declining smartphone and tablet business, which is quickly being eroded by increased competition from Chinese vendors at both ends of the pricing scale. Additionally, the Artik venture will enable Samsung to meet its goal of connecting every one of its products to the internet by 2020 – meaning that its consumer and industrial appliances (refrigerators, air conditioners, TVs, etc.) will all be able to be incorporated into connected home or building management platforms.

With its own SDK, as well as whole-platform support for Arduino and C/C++, the Artik platform is being promoted as a developer-friendly platform – with the hope that adopters will create Artik-based products and therefore chip sales for Samsung’s semiconductor division – perhaps the company’s best bet for longevity. Curiously, there was no mention of Tizen, Samsung’s own operating system, that the company has recently been positioning as an OS for IoT devices – after largely failing to launch it as a rival to Android in the mobile ecosystem.

Artik’s first customer was announced on stage, with Boogio, the maker of a data-gathering insole for shoes, said it was planning on using the Artik 1 in the fifth iteration of its device. The more significant new partner is low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) purveyor Sigfox, which launched its new San Francisco Sigfox network using a bike-tracking demo powered by Artik modules – more on that below.

Additional launch partners include Medium One (data analytics), SmartThings (naturally, Samsung’s new smart home platform acquisition), and Temboo (a software development tools vendor that has previously worked with Samsung on a connected water tank).

Applications to take part in the alpha stages of the project are now open, which means that Artik-based products are likely months or years away from the market.

Developed by Samsung’s Strategy and Innovation Center (SSIC), the smallest of the three modules, Artik 1, measures just 12mm x 12mm. It communicates via Bluetooth (BLE), and houses a nine-axis motion sensor (gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer) with “best-in-class compute capabilities and power consumption. It is specifically designed for low-power, small form-factor IoT applications.”

Interestingly, the spec sheet quotes a battery life of one week on a single charge, which means that this will certainly not find life inside the likes of environmental sensors or remote control actuators. In terms of its power design, its unspecified dual-core CPU combines a 250MHz core with an 80MHz core, which will save power by only firing up the more powerful core when it needs to do some heavy lifting.

Artik 1 will support an 800×480 WVGA screen, and runs Nucleus OS, a real-time operating system (RTOS) developed by Mentor Graphics and previously used by come of Samsung’s smartphones (and claims 3bn device deployments) – with support for Arduino IDE, Samsung SDK and C/C++ development environments. It has 1MB of onboard memory, and 4MB of flash storage.

The middle version, Artik 5, is aimed at more powerful devices such as wearables. It features an ARM Cortex-A7 based dual-core 1GHz processor, with 4GB of on-board flash and 512MB of DRAM. On a footprint measuring 29mm x 25mm, the Artik 5 supports H.264 and VP8 video codecs, and should have the necessary graphical horsepower to power the smaller screens that will be found on wearables.

Artik 5 supports Bluetooth and WiFi, and runs Yocto Linux 1.6 (Fedora) as its OS. It will support the Arduino IDE and Samsung SDK development environments, but expands on the Artik 1 by adding support for C/C++, Java, and Groovy (an object-oriented language for use on the Java platform).

Other details include support for the new Lightweight M2M protocol, CoAP, MQTT, 6LoWPAN and consequently IPv6, as well as multicast DNS (mDNS) for resolving host names and IP addresses on small networks. Notably, both the Artik 5 and the Artik 10 plan to support Thread – the Google-Nest backed 802.15.4 mesh networking protocol, which is due to release v1.0 sometime around July, perhaps sparking a rather large Android or Google smart home push.

The top-level Artik 10 looks rather powerful. With an 8-core ARM-based processor that can handle 1080p video at 120fps, 5.1 audio, 2GB of DRAM and 16GB of flash memory. With support for WiFi, BLE and ZigBee (eventually Thread too), this chip is designed for use in devices like home servers and gateways, as well as industrial installations.

The Artik 10 supports all the features of the Artik 5, but adds support for OpenHAB (the open Home Automation Bus, a Java-based platform that’s hardware agnostic) and OpenStack (Swift – data access and sharing) based frameworks – for coordinating the devices within larger ecosystems.

With a hardware security element, a big part of Samsung’s promotional focus is spent on the security benefits of the new Artik family. The company says that at the software level, a machine learning based anomaly detection system will allow users to spot unusual behavior – and prevent possible hacking or intrusions.

With the bundled software stack, Samsung says developers can move straight to working on the software frameworks that will power their applications and frameworks, instead of having to develop the low-level software libraries that would be required to kick-off work using stock hardware.

However, throwing around the term “best in class power consumption” isn’t going to win Samsung any friends until it starts being more forthcoming with actual usage numbers. From the spec sheets, Artik 5 and 10 both take a 3.4V-5V power input, and can output 1.8V/100mA and 2.4V/100mA – which are fairly typical for comparable chips.

But Samsung’s power stats for Artik 1 have yet to be announced, and are left blank on the spec sheet. Given that power consumption is the primary concern in most IoT end-nodes, this is a glaring omission. Given that the sheets for Artik 5 and 10 also have some fairly haphazard or patchy gaps in them too, this may just be a short-lived fault with the documentation.

Samsung also announced that some of the Artik modules will use its next-gen embedded Package-on-Package (ePoP) technology (likely Artik 5 and 10, not 1), which enables Samsung’s foundries to bundle all the memory components into a single package and fit them on top of the processor to save space on the total silicon footprint.

“We are providing the industry’s most advanced, open and secure platform for developing IoT products,” said Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer at Samsung Electronics. “By leveraging Samsung’s high-volume manufacturing, advanced silicon process and packaging technologies, and extensive ecosystem, Artik allows developer to rapidly turn great ideas into market leading IoT products and applications.”

Sigfox’s new San Francisco network uses Artik bike-tracking to demo:

Sigfox was also at IoT World to show off its new IoT LPWAN network deployment in San Francisco, using a bicycle tracking theft-detecting app. At Samsung’s booth, Sigfox was using Artik-powered modules to show-off the new city-wide network.

The company was forced to tweak its low-power wide-area networking (LPWAN) tech for US deployments due to the FCC’s different regulation for the 902-928MHz ISM band. In Europe, there isn’t a time limit for talking in the 868MHz ISM band, which suits the very low-power ultra-narrow-band process well as it can take a relatively long time to send a message to ensure that it gets through to the base station.

With the gateway paying very close attention to a very narrow piece of frequency, the subtle changes in modulation can be translated into 1s and 0s, before the sending device returns to sleep-mode to conserve its battery life. However, the FCC regulations cap single-channel transmission durations at 0.4 seconds – far too short a length of time for the European implementation.

We’re still waiting for confirmation on the minutiae of how Sigfox redesigned or reinterpreted its UNB tech to suit the FCC rules, but the more worrying part of the bike-tracking demonstration is not the radio redesign but rather the aforementioned 1-week battery life of the lowest power Artik chip – although an on-stage presentation said the battery would last a month. At just one week, we’re sure that bike owners will forget to recharge or replace the unit – although a dynamo-powered energy harvesting mechanism seems the most sensible way of replenishing the charge.

“At Samsung, we are keen to work with innovative partners, like Sigfox, to showcase the Artik platform’s ability to support multiple standards that solve real-world problems,” said Curtis Sasaki, CP of Ecosystem at Samsung Electronics. “The bicycle tracking app demonstrates the many benefits of the Artik platform, including low energy consumption, a robust OS, quick development time, and easy cloud connectivity.”