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Improving the edge

By 27th August 2020January 7th, 2021No Comments

Mini-PCs offer a multitude of advantages over their larger brethren when it comes to the delivery of highly capable intelligent edge devices.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has moved from being a concept to reality and is today making devices smarter and connecting everything from TVs to fridges to watches and beyond. In fact, the majority of devices today are now Internet-enabled and capable of ‘talking’ to one another. From a business perspective, this offers enormous possibilities for industries as diverse as retail, manufacturing, automotive and farming.

According to Xavier Nel, head of product at CloudGate, in the latter example, the farmer might use sensors to track and measure what is happening with regard to the weather, the soil PH levels or the watering of the fields. These would then need a gateway device to collect this data and send this through to a centralised location, where the farmer can analyse it.

“Of course, farms are often in more remote areas and may have inconsistent connectivity, which is where it becomes beneficial to have an intelligent edge solution in place. In such a scenario, the gateway itself must analyse the data and can make autonomous decisions. For example, if it is monitoring moisture in the soil and an area of the farm needs more water, the device itself can take the decision to engage the sprinklers in that area, without the farmer even needing to be involved at all,” he says.

“What many may not know is that mini-PCs can play a key role as just such an intelligent edge device. After all, their small size makes them easy to transport and implement or even to hide in order to protect them from theft. In addition, their lack of moving parts makes them effortless to maintain and simple enough to swap out if something does go wrong.”

Their ruggedness is important too, he adds, as often the arenas that most require an edge device are plagued by heat, cold or dirt, such as manufacturing, farming and wildlife management. Because mini-PCs use solid-state drives, they are easily capable of running 24/7.

“Remember that the smaller and less complex a device is, the easier it is to ensure its reliability – again, something that is vital if the edge device is in a remote area. Their size also means they consume much less power, and their price point is also significantly lower than a standard machine, which can be critical if hundreds of these devices are required. Finally, if the device has to do some form of number-crunching at the edge, it needs to be powerful enough for this. Mini-PCs offer similar power to a desktop, but with a much smaller form factor.”

“Although these devices will continue to become more powerful as technology continues to advance, further increasing their applicability as intelligent edge devices, it must be remembered that not all mini-PCs are right for this type of work. Therefore, any business seeking to utilise them for such a purpose should definitely talk to the specialists in this field first.”

“This is vital, as you have to consider many aspects when choosing the right device, including its compatibility with other IoT technologies, as well as with the software required for analysis. Ideally, the device should run Windows 10 IoT, which is specifically designed to work with IoT solutions, in respect of configuration control and management.”

“As we become smarter in everything we do, so these devices will come further into their own, particularly in a post-Coronavirus world, where more than ever, people will want to do things remotely, with fewer human links involved in the chain. We will thus rely on technology to do much of this instead, and the IoT and mini-PCs are key parts of the puzzle in this regard,” he concludes.

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