Connected World magazine

IssueJan/Feb 2012
DepartmentCover Story
Rapid M2M Development: Realtime Solutions, Done Right
Medical-device manufacturers already have enough hurdles to overcome when it comes to bringing a product to market; technology development shouldn’t be one of these challenges.
Medical-device manufacturers already have enough hurdles to overcome when it comes to bringing a product to market; technology development shouldn’t be one
of these challenges.

Today’s market for medical devices is a hotbed of idea generation, as the prospect of embedding intelligence in the form of M2M (machine-to-machine) technology into mobile devices has everyone excited about the possibilities. The current market is already awash with devices that can track everything from blood-glucose levels to daily heart-rate readings, and many innovators and entrepreneurs are chomping at the bit to bring the next great life-saving product to market.

Yet despite this high level of innovation and the growing demand from the next generation that believes the idea of “aging in place” is made possible through intelligent and secure devices, such products aren’t immune to the standard regulatory and approval processes all medical devices must endure. Still, while medical device makers cannot dictate the speed at which their product prototype filters through the government approval process, what they can control is just how fast their technology development teams can bring products to this stage.

In making the case for open-platform development in M2M, the medical-device manufacturing community isn’t the only example that illustrates why this model works. However, spotlighting its effect on a space, which for all intents and purposes poses the greatest barriers to entry and highest pressures on cost, shows just how powerful such a concept could be if applied horizontally across all markets.

Throughout the past year, Connected World has outlined the concept of open-platform development in M2M; introducing the notion and the members of the value chain working hard on the plan; detailing the value of getting executive-level buy-in on the approach; and even profiling some of the solutions available in the market today. This installment hones in on the impact open-platform development has within a specific vertical market, and the approach that can be taken by the M2M value chain in order to streamline the product-development process.

Diagnosis: Platform

The U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Admin.) does indeed recognize the growing trend of innovation at the device level. Therefore, two years ago the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health decided it needed to re-evaluate and modernize its regulatory review process for such devices. Such an enhancement to the process has focused on promoting public health by facilitating device innovation, yet continuing to assure patients they would have timely access to safe and effective medical devices. 

Embedded and mobile software provider Wind River Systems, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Intel, emphasizes this idea through the delivery of its commercial off-the-shelf software solution, Wind River Platform for Medical Devices.The emphasis with such a platform, says Wind River, is to ensure companies optimize their software across the entire lifecycle of a product, starting with design, all the way through support of the deployed devices. Such a platform helps ensure these companies are working with a proven embedded development platform that help can help reduce the risk, cost, time, and complexities of bringing to market complex medical devices.

According to Wind River, this platform is based on a robust realtime operating system, VxWorks, which enables developers to optimize their run-time environment using only the specific technologies that are required for their individual device. VxWorks also supports such industry standard protocols as IPv6, TIPC, and IPsec. This helps to ensure maximum code portability, interoperability, and security—three factors that define the very essence of what it means to work with open-platform development.

This is merely one example in one specific market that demonstrates how a technology platform can provide a jumpstart to the development process that, until now, has been lacking in the market. The less time spent by developers on such tedious and complex tasks as vendor qualification, testing, and validation, to name a few, the better. Today, innovation cycles are only limited by the imagination of those doing the development. Less time spent up front on busy work equates to more rapid uptake and faster penetration into the market for devices that could, in this case, save millions of lives.

The Sum of All Parts

Still, when talking about open platforms, no one company will be able to deliver it all. This is why members of the M2M value chain continue to emphasize the concept of an open ecosystem. Companies across each stage of the value chain address this idea of the ecosystem approach, looking at the big picture for the betterment of all parties involved.

During a recent appearance on The Peggy Smedley Show, Kevin Rhoads, the vice president embedded products, Kontron, talked about ways in which the growing trend toward connected devices has positioned companies nicely and forced them to look at new strategies and tactics as they move toward a future where more products connect. He said: “All of us want to be positioned correctly as the trend unfolds, and I think the key thing here is that not one company can provide that true solution end-to-end. That is why the ecosystem partnership is so important to us.”

Kontron is one of the companies providing M2M Smart Services Development and Deployment Kits partnering with Intel Corp., and it is a Premier member of Intel’s Embedded Alliance Program in its push for open platforms. Of course, Kontron is not alone. Companies like ILS Technology, Eurotech, Yanzi Networks, Vodafone, Verizon Wireless, just to name a few, are closely aligned with Intel to build a powerful stable of M2M providers that bring strength to the open platform solution.

Today it’s all about the value chain members making a collective investment into this market moving forward, each having a vested interest in its part of a bigger solution. But the key, as Rhoads said, is that a solution provides flexibility to customers, offering value at all stages.

“The drive for us in the future is getting toward embedded connected devices,” adds Rhoads. “The strategy is that we see the development of a market where every device out there throughout the next 10 years and on will have connectivity and be able to communicate with each other. We have taken notice and are excited about the development and to work with ecosystem partners (to provide solutions).”

As envisioned by Intel’s director of connected platforms/M2M technologies, Kevin Johnson, there are three main areas of innovation in open-platform development: hardware, software, and services.

Combined, these have a way of driving truly innovative products, while keeping cost in check and the development community engaged and excited.

He says, “Open platform and deployment frameworks help capture the attention of the development community. It keeps the interest of developers by making it simple and fast to get services up and running—where the profit is.”

The example showcased in this article dealt with the idea of medical-device manufacturing, and helping such products get to market at a faster, more efficient pace. But the results discussed can, in fact, be applied to everything from an automobile to a vending machine at your local convenience store, helping all types of products become connected.

The faster the pace at which innovation is allowed to proceed, the more fruitful the yield will be in the end. In a market that is poised to grow to a level where billions of devices will eventually become connected, this type of fast-paced development will be among the necessary factors in achieving such a lofty goal.

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