Boosting IoT research through effective research testbed setup

The internet of things (IoT) boom (as evident from google trends) is on its peak resulting in an abrupt attention from the research community toward formulating the IoT use cases and solving the problems in the IoT ecosystem.

Internet of Things search trend (courtesy: google)

In order to solve this problem, some researchers go beyond the formal and simulation methods to practically testing the behavior of their problem and its solution in a real or near to real test environments. These test environments are actually the pain in the ass designing, and configuring and deploying the heterogeneous IoT nodes with OS is a troublesome and lengthy process which often consumes a lot of precious time resulting in poor productivity. In order to solve this problem for the research community, I have a suggestion (both for novice and experts) and I have myself utilized it on certain occasions and I felt may be some peoples needing it.

Now, the solution is to utilize a plain standard Android phone (what do you think?).  I have very strong reasons for suggesting it and the reasons are:

  1.  The android phones are equipped with a facility known as USB on the go (OTG) for details google it. Now using this feature one can theoretically use any kind of device on the mobile device using the OTG  feature provided the mobile device has the appropriate drivers to handle the connecting devices common devices such as keyboard/mouse are I think plug-n-play due to the availability of drivers.
  2.  Now with custom design IoT nodes, there are two problems first the availability and deployment or porting of an OS to the designed IoT node is a difficult task and if the research use case is based on modeling a heterogeneous environment then the problem become threefold. The problem is further intensified when cross compiling drivers and the actual application for the nodes.
  3.  Now keeping in mind point 1 and point 2 let’s take a look at Android OS. Android OS is technically a Linux distribution (as far my knowledge says). So we have a Linux kernel beneath the Android applications life cycle. Now connecting the dots: with the OTG feature, we can connect any type of sensor to the Android device which is equipped with almost a full stack Linux kernel just needing to exploit the Linux kernel and make our IoT magic to work. Now the question arises why we are talking about the kernel why don’t we directly utilizes the Android OS and make our thing work the answer is simple. Android comes with a subset of standard C library called BIONIC custom designed for the resource scarce devices. Working with BIONIC and using the Android NDK also requires specialties and can take a lot of time. Academic researchers are normally equipped with the knowledge of standard C but not the peculiarities of porting and writing code for NDK and making it work on the standard Android ABI.
  4. So the solution is to get Linux environment on the mobile devices having direct access to the kernel and the resources she is managing (I mean no virtualization stuff). Now the question arises how can we get it? We can get it by utilizing the kernel of the Android in a chroot environment which enables us to utilizes a full stack Linux distribution with a more conventional C library and a very standard Linux application life cycle pattern which opens a range of application development for research purposes. Even you can get applications using apt-get and yum.
  5. This testbed concept can be applied to any of the research domain lying under the umbrella of mobile computing.


Feel free to update me upon my thinking…


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