Doug Sandy

July 20, 2020

Introduction to PICMG IIoT Specifications

Doug Sandy

Imagine a factory in the near future, where front-end operations are seamlessly integrated with back-end purchasing and accounting using standard IT technologies. Artificial intelligence and machine learning provide actionable business insights, and new custom equipment is deployed using off-the-shelf smart sensors and motors with the same ease as you might install a new mouse with your laptop.  This is the vision of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) “Smart Factory”.  

While many of the technologies to implement this vision exist today, standardization – particularly at the sensor domain – remains an impediment to wide-scale deployment.  This is where PICMG comes in.

PICMG is currently working on a series of specifications that are targeted at interoperability at the sensor domain.  The first of these specifications defines the Micro Sensor Adapter Module (MicroSAM™).  MicroSAM is a new hardware form-factor that is about the size of a postage stamp and answers the need for scalable, industrial-grade interface and data acquisition.  Other specification work includes requirements for common firmware features, common data model, network architecture, and integration with the Distributed Management Task Force’s (DMTF) Redfish management API.  Together, these form the backbone of plug-and-play for industrial sensors and actuators.  In a series of forthcoming blogs, more details will be given on each of these works.

We believe that PICMG IIoT compliant solutions will accelerate the uptake of smart-sensor technology by creating new, standards-driven engagement models that are based on interoperability.  These are just a few examples:

  1. Traditional sensor vendors will be able to quickly create smart sensors by integrating their products with off-the-shelf sensor adapter modules and firmware.
  2. Traditional microcontroller vendors will be able to produce hardware and firmware that interoperates with higher levels of the network with plug-and-play ease.
  3. Facility operators will be able to deploy a wide range of sensors and actuators using PICMG extensions to the DMTF Redfish API without having to worry about the hardware device-specific behaviors.

Whether you are a computer hardware vendor, sensor vendor, integrator, or operator, these specifications have something to offer.  Before my next blog on MicroSAM™ and hardware at the sensor node, I would love to hear from you.  What challenges are you facing in Industrial IoT?  How can we work together to make your vision a reality?

March 6, 2020

Simplifying sensors – an update on PICMG Industrial IoT standards

Doug Sandy

“Simple is Hard”, so the saying goes. Reducing the essence of a complex idea or system into something that is readily understood and easy to use takes time, effort, and creativity. Never has this been truer than today’s push toward Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). While much progress has been made with cloud analytics and backend support, the sensor domain has remained largely impervious to change. With multitudes of different sensors, interfaces, and applications, standardization has been a
necessary but missing ingredient. Simplifying this problem is hard.
In 2019, the PICMG® standards organization, in collaboration with the DMTF®, launched two new industry specifications targeted at bringing plug-and-play to the sensor domain of IIoT. The first of these specifications focuses on a small hardware module that today’s sensor vendors can use to create smart sensor nodes. The second specification defines a network architecture and data model that ensures uniformity at the software level. Our aim is to enable and accelerate industrial smart sensor market by making their creation and deployment simple.

To date, PICMG made great strides toward the standardization of the sensor domain for Industrial IoT. The hardware technical subcommittee has defined the physical signals, communication interface, environmental conditions and started tackling the configuration and connector needs. The Network Architecture and Data Model technical subcommittee, on the other hand, has focused more on the overall network architecture, to enable sensor plug-and-play. We have created a framework for the architecture and behavior of the various elements and selected communications protocols.

For a full discussion, please go to

November 13, 2019

Industrial IIoT Specifications Taking Shape

Doug Sandy

Two new industrial IoT Specification from PICMG

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the fastest growing segment of Internet of Things with annual revenues expected to be larger than the commercial segment of Internet of Things through the first half of next decade.  Within this segment are many traditional embedded markets including: defense and aerospace, transportation, energy and industrial automation.  Among these markets, Smart Factory (industrial automation) is the fastest growing vertical (24% CAGR) as factory automation seeks to deploy intelligent factory equipment, tightly couple factory operations and backend processes, leverage IT skillsets, and improve overall efficiencies through analytics.

At the 2019 Embedded Technology Conference, I had the opportunity to present to a room of long-time industry professionals about the state of Industrial Internet of Things.  In part of the discussion I told the fictional story of how Mary, a director of operations at a smart factory, was faced with the monumental task of bringing up a new factory line while upgrading the factory equipment; however, she needed to leave the existing software infrastructure intact.  To do this, Mary’s new hardware would need to plug-and-play with existing infrastructure and interoperate with disparate equipment at levels so far unachievable in industry.  Mary moved forward with her plans, confident in positive results.  Her upgrade was a huge success. Mary got a large promotion, and everyone lived happily ever after. The question I posed then is just as relevant today: “Is this a fairy tale, or could this really be possible?”

At PICMG, we believe the answer is: “Not only is this possible, it is achievable today.” With collaboration between our member companies and other industry consortia, we are targeting open specifications to address the need for interoperable industrial computing solutions at the sensor plane.  This paper outlines the first two of these specifications which were launched earlier this year and are expected to be released in the first half of 2020.

Sensor Data Model and Network Architecture

If sensors in an IIoT deployment are to plug-and-play with the rest of the automation infrastructure, there must be agreement upon how the devices communicate with the network, how they report their features, and how they can be interacted with from higher layers of the network.  With IIoT, the first of these challenges, how to communicate, is largely taken care of by internet technologies: Ethernet, HTTP, JSON and the like.  The second problem – how the sensors report themselves, and how they interact with the rest of the network requires the standardization of data models and network architectures.

The first IIoT specification underway by PICMG addresses just this need.  Key elements of the architecture under discussion today are a low-level binary data model definition that enables lightweight sensor nodes, a gateway architecture (for converting binary coded data models to DMTF Redfish), methods of synchronization of multiple endpoints, and security recommendations.  

This specification will enable an ecosystem of new smart sensor vendors to create sensors that interoperate seamlessly within the Redfish/PICMG sensor-domain network architecture.  Existing vendors of Com Express and CompactPCI Serial will also benefit as potential gateway suppliers into the network.

This proposal is expected to have two primary outputs.  A DMTF Redfish-compatible data model, and a specification that documents the system architecture of the sensor-domain network. 

New small Form-Factor Module

The second specification currently underway proposes a new microcontroller-agnostic ultra-small form-factor module for the enablement of smart sensors.  This module, which is expected to be no more than 30mm squared, will provide a hardware platform for traditional sensor vendors wishing to quickly create smart sensors.  When combined with the PICMG sensor domain network architecture and data model, sensors will seamlessly integrate into the network with plug-and-play interoperability.

We envision that this specification will benefit the industry in three specific ways.  First, it will enable sensor vendors to create smart sensors without having to manufacture the control circuitry and/or software by purchasing these components from PICMG-compliant suppliers.  Second, it will enable controller suppliers who wish to create smart sensors or smart-sensor components to do so in a way that is interoperable with other suppliers. And lastly, it will accelerate the uptake of smart-sensor technology through open-specifications and interoperability.

Joining the efforts

At PICMG, we are excited about these two new contributions aimed at accelerating the adoption of standards-based IIoT.  Together we are working on moving “plug-and-play” at the sensor domain from fantasy to reality.