Author: James Butcher, Senior Solutions Architect | IOTech
As we arrive back in the UK following a hugely successful IoT Solutions World Congress event in Barcelona, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the show but also pass on my thoughts on what has been a pretty busy first 3 months for me at IOTech.
One of my first roles since joining IOTech as a Solutions Architect was to help put together the EdgeX Foundry Community Demonstrator in time for its first scheduled appearance at the Barcelona event. Being new to EdgeX it would be an interesting challenge to quickly come up to speed with the technology and use EdgeX to integrate a number of real industrial sensors and controllers into a logical working edge system. I also ended up learning more about electrical wiring than I expected to but picked up some useful new skills there too!
With the help of Basking Automation - our building automation partner, we designed the demonstrator so that the lighting and air conditioning of three distinct zones in a smart building could be automatically controlled based on the ambient conditions and the number of occupants in each zone. The role of EdgeX is to collect data from industrial-grade light and temperature sensors, then to efficiently manage the office environment by intelligently delivering the desired actuation values to the lighting and air conditioning units. The objective of the demonstration was to give an opportunity for visitors to the stand to affect the behaviour themselves by swiping users into zones, interacting with the sensors and observing the resulting changes to the lights and air conditioning units. The demonstration also included a power meter so that the efficiency gains from the automation can be easily observed. All this functionality was running at the Edge but we also demonstrated Cloud system integration by delivering data to the Basking platform which provides further detailed control and analysis for the building automation domain.
In our Newcastle office my desk quickly became filled with the numerous devices and their wiring that would be used in the demo: Elsner light and temperature sensors, Deuta LEDs and LED Controllers, a CoolMaster HVAC unit, Salto access control locks together with their gateway and swipe cards, a Schneider Electric power meter, two switches and three different gateway devices each running EdgeX.
I found that the EdgeX architecture made it pretty easy to integrate data from new devices into the system. You run the EdgeX Device Service for the desired protocol and then instantiate a device profile that describes the specifics of each device. In our system, for example, I could start the EdgeX Modbus Device Service and then create a profile for the Modbus-based Elsner sensor devices. In the EdgeX device profiles, you need to basically describe which Modbus register corresponds to the data you are looking to read or write. For the demonstrator, we just needed to list the Modbus addresses for the temperature and light level readings and then the data would flow into EdgeX. I found this quite easy to use and it provides nice separation from the devices and the details of the rest of the system - no programming required.
I also really liked how it was easy to actually run the EdgeX microservices on the gateways. Our demo showed how EdgeX is hardware and operating system independent by using both x86, arm32 and arm64 gateways – all from different vendors. The microservice architecture makes it easy to distribute the workload across the three gateways because each microservice doesn’t care where it is deployed – they are all run in Docker containers which makes deployment orchestration really easy.
So despite annoying my new IOTech colleagues with lots of questions and constantly flashing LEDs for a couple of weeks, we managed to get the devices setup, integrated and controlled with EdgeX. We had everything more or less working in the office, but of course, we still had to physically integrate the system together so it could be demonstrated at future tradeshows and events.
Our exhibition partner B+S Exhibitions based in Dusseldorf, Germany designed an ingenious “magic cube” that enabled the demonstrator to be folded away for easy transportation. It looks great but meant that we needed to think carefully about the wiring and connectivity of devices on the two main panels. I think there were 17 devices in total that we had to mount and find space for. Here are a couple of photos of us putting it together in Dusseldorf:
So over to Barcelona then, and despite heavy storms, a flight diversion to Toulouse, a very late night and a 4 hour drive to eventually get there, it was an enjoyable week.
I was really proud to see the demo as the centrepiece of the EdgeX Foundry stand and it was very pleasing to see that people were attracted to the demo and could immediately understand what the EdgeX software is capable of doing. Pretty quickly people were asking more detailed questions about how the EdgeX microservices worked, how the data was being acquired, where the decisions were being made, etc. All good conversations which are helped enormously by having a physical working demonstration to refer to. Building Automation is just one domain where EdgeX can be used of course, but it’s easy for people to see the parallels to other industrial systems.
The demonstrator contributed to driving traffic to the EdgeX Foundry stand and it was great to see the teamwork from the EdgeX partners with a lot of people helping on the stand, explaining the demo and answering questions. A great EdgeX team effort.
So overall a very positive and enjoyable show. I learnt a lot, made a lot of great contacts and think the time to construct the demonstrator was well spent. There’s nothing like actually putting a system together to learn how it works. Having done that I’m really looking forward to working further with the EdgeX technology and helping customers with their systems.