STEPS FORWARD: How decentralizing IoT could help save the planet — by driving decarbonization

By Byron V. Acohido

The Internet of Things (IoT) is on the threshold of ascending to become the Internet of Everything (IoE.)

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IoT is transitioning from an array of devices that we can control across the Internet into a realm where billions of IoE devices can communicate with each other and make unilateral decisions on our behalf.

This, of course, is the plot of endless dystopian books and movies that end with rogue machines in charge. Yet IoE, at this nascent stage, holds much promise to tilt us towards a utopia where technology helps to resolve our planet’s most intractable problems.

This was the theme of Infineon Technologies’ OktoberTech 2023 conference, which I had the privilege of attending at the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley. I had the chance to visit with Thomas Rosteck, Infineon’s Division President of Connected Secure Systems (CSS.)

Infineon supplies semiconductors embedded in smart systems, most notably in automotive, power and IoT. What I found most commendable about this Neubiberg, Germany-based semiconductor manufacturer is that it is fully directing its innovations squarely at reversing the negative impacts of climate change.

The theme of their conference, Driving decarbonization and digitalization – together, defines the company’s culture. I spoke with Rosteck about how  emerging IoE systems can help accelerate decarbonization – and about the security challenges that must be met along the way. For a drill down on our discussion, please view the accompanying videocast. Here are my takeaways:

Decentralizing IoT

Advancements in smart buildings and smart transportation systems continued apace in 2023 — and this has resulted in a choke point. Latency build-up has become intolerable, Rosteck noted, as more and more IoT devices send larger and larger rivers of data up into the Internet cloud for processing.

The solution that hardware and software suppliers are pursuing is to push more and more computing tasks out to the far edges of IoT systems — all the way out to the semiconductors controlling and directing the electrical current coursing through each discreet IoT device.

Semiconductors are the processing chips that convert alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) in everything from the tiniest sensors to cloud servers and back to our laptops and smartphones. The technology industry has been focused on finding ways to circulate electricity much more efficiently at this chipset level.

Infineon’s bailiwick happens to be supplying advanced power modules and microcontrollers – the chipsets found embedded in thousands of different types of digitally-controlled appliances and machines, including IoT devices. Along with its partners and even its competitors, Infineon is on a path to push out more and more intelligence to the far edges of IoE systems. Instead of just carrying out simplistic tasks, IoT sensors and actuators are evolving into controls capable of making complex decisions, autonomously, where they are situated.

Rosteck

“We’re in a new wave of digitalization where devices at the edge are getting more and more powerful,” Rosteck says. “We can execute a lot of machine learning, at the edge, in IoT devices . . . it’s possible to reduce complexity and increase efficiencies because you don’t have to bring everything up to the cloud.”

Security by design

I asked Rosteck about the security implications of pushing computation out to the edge of IoT/IoE systems. After all, decentralizing smart functionalities does nothing to slow the expansion of the cyber-attack surface open to clever, motivated hacking collectives.

Rosteck stressed the importance of adopting a “security by design” approach. This means security must get factored in during the earliest stages of IoT product development, more pervasively so at the software level and, more so than ever at the hardware level.

Infineon’s power module and microcontroller chipsets provide a case in point. They come with a “secure element” which embeds encryption keys and authentication certificates at the chip level. “We protect these chips by making sure no one can access these keys,” Rosteck told me.

Locking down device authentication at the chip level provides a very deep, final layer of assurance that connections to each IoT device are trustworthy. What’s more, embedding robust security directly onto a chipset requires minimal use of additional energy in the field. This is important when considering the alternative of deploying yet more layers of software security delivered as a cloud service, Rosteck noted.

It struck me that this all fits very nicely into Infineon’s business model, which essentially is to grow revenue and profits by aggressively reducing its own carbon footprint and then encouraging its partners and customers to do the same.

“Driving decarbonization is a mission we have given ourselves and it is one that’s really important for all of us and actually for the generations to come,” Rosteck says, acknowledging that it also makes good business sense. “I also have to be able to make money with it because if I don’t make money, I can’t do the things that I believe in.”

Very well said! I’ll keep watch and keep reporting.

Acohido

Pulitzer Prize-winning business journalist Byron V. Acohido is dedicated to fostering public awareness about how to make the Internet as private and secure as it ought to be.


(LW provides consulting services to the vendors we cover.)

 

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