Firmware is the backbone of IoT

The BACKBONE of the future of smart devices may not be what you think. It's time to think Firmware.

Software and its associated computer technology has brought us huge technological advances. Commerce, communication, and connection have reached unimaginable levels compared to 50 years ago.

The smart phone, an incredibly complex device, is a marvel of innovation and advanced technology. We now take it for granted.

Now we’re entering the post-computer age. One where we will connect, well, everything. Imagine if every tree could tell you its life story and its aches and pains. Yes, every tree. Every piece of concrete, every wire in a home, every coffee cup on your desk, every ladder you climb. Let’s expand that idea to you, and to all living things. That is the direction we are headed. This is no small deal! Communication amongst humans is one thing and we have a lot to learn on that front. But things? Data so massive in scale we can’t even imagine it. This sounds like my initial comments about software, doesn’t it?

So what is the backbone of this future? The creation and dissemination of, not human communication; but ‘thing’ communication. So how does a ‘thing’ communicate its data? How do we extract information from things, trillions of things? Think of the trees on the planet alone. The bridge between a thing and data is a network of sensors that can transform say heat or vibration, into data. But sensors, and the data, don’t control themselves. They aren’t living beings. They must be programmed and controlled by firmware that extracts information from the electronics and presents that data in various ways to various upstream technologies. It is indeed a backbone that then spreads the data, like the nerve endings in your spine, to your brain and body. Without your backbone, nothing can be sent to other parts of your body. Without nerves nothing can be sent to other parts of your body.

Thing communication is created and disseminated, updated and encrypted by FIRMWARE. Firmware is the backbone of every single “smart” thing. To make a thing smart you have to have firmware. Now imagine the amount of firmware that is needed to monitor, measure, control and manipulate information about every ‘thing?’

In spite of its need, firmware is poorly understood. If you are not an engineer, it’s likely you have heard of firmware but you don’t know what it is. If you have a degree in engineering, you don’t have one in firmware even though you may be a firmware engineer. Firmware is misrepresented in media and often referred to as ‘software.’ Software is the medium used but it’s not firmware. Firmware is ‘software’ that monitors and controls engineering systems be they electrical, chemical, mechanical, civil, geological and so on. It’s that ‘thing in the middle’ between the electronics and the software.

On February 17th  2021, we landed the rover Perseverance on Mars. What do you think is in that rover to control the electromechanical subsystems to not only get it to Mars but also control the rover itself? Same with the drone that will be launched from the rover. All firmware.

There is no degree in firmware, there are also way too few firmware engineers in the world. Yet we will need, in my estimation, more firmware engineers than we need software developers to create all the software we use today and will use tomorrow. It’s a dilemma! It’s the backbone of smart and connected things. Yet we don’t have a degree, and we don’t call it firmware in the general media. Remember the 2000 bug? That was firmware. Remember ‘Toyota Unintended Acceleration’? That was firmware. Remember the Boeing Max? Same thing. I could create a list a mile long of firmware failures. Should we be surprised when firmware is not a well established field in academia when we can’t even call it what it is?

It matters. It matters because as a result of the lack of understanding, a field in firmware, and enough talented firmware engineers, we see an enormous amount of ‘bad’ firmware. It’s for this reason that we at USA Firmware focus our business model on great firmware. It’s the weak link in nearly all IoT solutions, except, well, ours frankly.

Contact us to learn how quality firmware engineering can bring smart IoT ideas to life.


About the author:
Bob Scaccia is President and CEO USA Firmware