Could intelligent connectors usher in the IoT revolution?

21st May 2018
Anna Flockett

Smart, connected devices have the capability to make our lives easier, greener and safer by creating networks of devices that collect and share data in factories, at home or on the road. The futuristic concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is one in which a network of automated machines, devices and sensors create a digital ‘nervous system’ with which they self-monitor, analyse the aggregated data and then ‘learn’ or modify their own behaviour to change the expected outcome.

The benefits of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication are many, and the possibilities for future technological development endless. However, designing increasingly complex networks of connected devices can only be as sophisticated as the building blocks available for the task.

Whether on the factory floor, inside a vehicle or even out in the field, space is always at a premium. Now more than ever, more components have to fit into smaller spaces and each one either needs to be cabled in to a local area network or be enabled to collect and transfer data to the cloud wirelessly. This ultimately places original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) under more and more pressure to source components with increased capacities and functionalities in smaller form factors than ever before.

Another challenge is putting all of this advanced technology into dirty industrial or harsh outdoor environments.

Most of these instrumentation applications will require some degree of ingress protection, and this in turn means that the connectors for power, data and communications will also require rugged designs by default to be able to function in harsh environments.

As with any notable technological transformation, coping with the growing complexity of networking industrial devices for IoT depends on how well associated industries can adapt their product offerings – and the trend is now pushing the connector industry to come up with some new and exciting ideas to help usher in the next industrial revolution.

Advancements in electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) have enabled technology to shrink further, heralding a host of new possibilities in connector development. From this, "intelligent connectors" may soon arise – the term may be defined as connectors that are programmable, have embedded sensory devices or simple programmable logic.

The development of intelligent connectors would enable some IoT circuitry to be displaced from inside the expensive parts of the system into connectors, which are regarded as “consumables” or “maintenance” items. The entire system level design could then become more simplified, enabling IoT maintenance or upgrades to be carried out through switching out connectors or programming the connectors and replacing them in the field rather than replacing the more expensive components of the system.

A sister company within the Elektron Group has developed a cloud-based Work Monitoring Platform called CheckIt, incorporating Bulgin’s miniature 400 Series connectors to provide ingress protected connections for sensory devices, such as humidity and temperature.

In the same lightweight and compact range, Bulgin has successfully overmoulded EEPROM into its PX0400 and PX0401 connectors for a similar sensory / monitoring system within the AgriTech sector. This EEPROM had only two pins - a data pin (I/O) and ground pin for operation – making the design ideal for the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables, consumables, and other new technology sectors.

Guest blog courtesy of Bulgin.

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