Feature Story


More feature stories by year:

2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
1999
1998

Return to: 2011 Feature Stories

CLIENT: IMAGINATION TECHNOLOGIES

May 5, 2011: Electronic Engineering Journal

An Escape from an Escape: Imagination Technologies Tries to Make It Easier to Connect from Anything

Being out in the wild is supposed to get you away from things modern and technological. And yet… there are ways that new gadgetry might improve your isolated camping experience.

Let’s say, for example, that a critical camping information system would be useful.  Perhaps it would link to a variety of on-line video channels dedicated to camping content. And, rather than packing yet another device, perhaps it could be integrated into an existing piece of camping equipment. Like, perhaps, your camp stove. It’s got a lid that flips up to block the wind – why not integrate a screen into it?

Then, while you’re cooking dinner, you could dial up the Camping for Chefs channel and browse recipes and tips and tricks. Then, when you’re ready for that hike, you could go to the Trails for Trippers channel with up-to-date information on trail conditions – and perhaps even register your plans so that someone knows where you’re going.

And then, as the evening approaches and you’re washing the dishes and everyone is pining for some semblance of the daily evening rituals, perhaps the kids could gather around the stove and watch selections from the Kamp Kartoons for Kids channel, with outdoor-oriented fare (and raised eyebrows in some parts of the US).

So let’s say you have this fabulous inspiration and want to go implement it. What would you have to do?

Well, first you’d have to design an embedded platform that would nestle safely away inside the camp stove away from the actual stove heat. That includes not only the computing platform, but also the wherewithal to get information from the internet into the camp stove. That ranges from hardware IP to implement a physical layer all the way up several layers of the protocol stack to facilitate transparent end-to-end communication. Of course, there’s only so much you can do to arrange for connectivity in the wild, but presumably WiFi, a cell connection, or a satellite service would be able to connect your customer from nowhere to the rest of the world.

As a “traditional” embedded system, this might be enough, since the old business model is that you sell a box that does something, and you make your money on the profits from device sales. But that aims too low, if many modern business models are any indication. Why stop there when you can monetize the service as well?

You can have your customers subscribe to the service on a monthly basis (or perhaps on a trip-by-trip basis). You could even bill a basic level for the service and then have separate up-charges for each of the content channels to be accessed.

This gets more complicated for a simple system designer. Now you need to provision a landing place on the web for the service. That starts with website design. Then you need an account and billing facility. And billing is only partly about your own accounting. A useful aspect to the billing concept is allowing someone to pay. So that means payment providers and decisions on what kinds of payment to accept and whether to store credit card information yourself for easy access by you and any hackers in the vicinity or have someone else manage that for you… that and all manner of other non-trivial details.

Then, assuming the account stuff is set up from home using a standard PC and browser, you’ll need a “portal” if you plan to have your camp stove access content without acting like a browser (since you probably won’t go so far as to connect a mouse and keyboard to your stove… although… all it would take would be a couple of USB ports… and people expect far more from a tiny phone and a couple opposable thumbs… oh well, perhaps next version). So this involves all the connection and session management stuff that needs to happen transparently to a poor camper that’s trying escape all this technology gobbledy-gook.

Then, after all that, you need content. Presumably you’re not going to create the content all yourself, but will connect up with some provider of the things that your customers are going to want to see. And pay for. And, rolodex-wise, system design is pretty far removed from consumer content creation. After all, as talented and creative as you may be as a designer, the word “talent” is reserved exclusively for use when referring to insecure personalities that will actually appear on-camera so that they’ll feel like they’re the only important ones. And that world of talent will have little to no connection to your world.

Bottom line: it’s a lot of work. And you’ll  need to assemble a variety of employees or consultants with different backgrounds and skills to bring it all together. Unless, of course, someone elsecan take care of all of this for you.

Which is what Imagination Technologies is trying to do with their FlowWorld offering, demonstrated at the Embedded Systems Conference in May. What they’ve put together is something more or less like a pre-provisioned cloud environment for implementing connected embedded systems. The infrastructure, a server farm with OS and stacks in place, plays host to the higher-level functions that your systems can access via their Flow APIs.

System design using Imagination Technologies’ IP would likely start more or less with their META processors and other related IP. But, as vendors trying to sell more of their stuff, they looked at what it takes for someone to realize an entire embedded experience for the end customer. And decided that they could probably add extra value if they could make that additional portal work a whole lot easier.

So they’ve established an ecosystem and then integrated it into their FlowWorld environment. Their customers can then pull together all of the bits and pieces they need to get the whole thing going. Of course, that means that they’ll be using the vendors in the system (although there may be more than one, enabling a choice). And, if the best solutions are available in FlowWorld, it’s no tradeoff at all; alternatively, if there’s another provider for, say, billing, that you might prefer, the convenience of using FlowWorld might still outweigh any other benefits that you might give up.

Right now, FlowWorld is very audio-centric, which is kind of natural, given Imagination Technologies’ PURE audio division. At ESC they were demonstrating “FlowBear,” a teddy bear that was also a radio. You could change stations or volume by moving the bear or its parts various ways (and they could even reprogram the “user interface” over the internet).

But their claimed intent is for the number of services available through FlowWorld to grow, broadening their reach. They mentioned medical solutions as a particular area of potential so that medical devices could receive updates or other critical information from the FlowWorld cloud, with doctors able to access a portal to help manage their patients.

So, given appropriate video infrastructure and content, you could assemble your magical camp stove much more quickly. You could even arrange for your customers to access the Game or the Race that they would otherwise miss, from the comfort of their camp-chair-with-the-integrated-beer-cozy. Of course, it might also be wise to provide a Hasty Escape channel in case their neighboring campers descend on them with torches and pitchforks, protesting the encroachment of the outside world into the wilds.

Return to: 2011 Feature Stories