Firmware Development

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What is Embedded Firmware Development?

The development of embedded firmware is a process that the Witekio engineering team has built enormous skill and expertise in over two decades.

Working with clients developing IoT and connected devices for a wide range of use cases in several industries, including medtech, energy, food and agriculture, security and surveillance, and consumer goods.

But what is firmware, and why is it essential to the development of an IoT device?

Firmware is still software, but it is considered ‘firm’ in that it is embedded and more difficult to change once it is deployed on the hardware of the IoT device.

Like a software application, the firmware consists of code stored on the device, but it is code that is intended to be largely unchanged once deployed. This is not to suggest that it cannot be changed at all – it can, and Witekio engineers have deep experience doing so over the air (OTA) – but it is intended to be on the device in the long term and underlies any software deployed to the device.

The firmware defines the low-level functioning of the system and includes the operating system and code that connects that operating system to various peripherals (for example, connectivity options, displays, and user interface peripherals).

New Firmware Development Project?

Our Firmware Development Services in action

Witekio has deep expertise in developing firmware for a variety of use cases with a history of success in delivering the firmware and embedded software that ensures market success for its clients across a range of industries.

Among the firmware design and firmware development projects that stand out in recent years are:

Adeunis (Smart Building Sensors): In addition to developing a web application interface, the engineers at Witekio provided a new firmware with a complete system integration service, from firmware update architecture integration to radio frequency communication.

Cerevast (MedTech and Connected Health): Witekio engineers developed embedded firmware for Cerevast’s new connected health device on top of an NXP i.MX 6 processor. The firmware provided the MPU with Bluetooth connectivity on a Linux OS.

Evoca (Smart Vending Machines): Witekio engineers developed the firmware that was embedded in the company’s smart vending machines. The engineers customized a Linux Yocto1.6 BSP to run on the new Evoca hardware as well as enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.

Firmware Development Technology

Witekio is experienced with developing firmware for a wide variety of technologies.

No matter the processor, the operating system (OS), the preferred connectivity option, or your specified cloud provider, Witekio engineers can design and develop the firmware that you need to power your device efficiently, securely, and resiliently.

Firmware processors:

Witekio has deep expertise in firmware development for a variety of the most popular processing units. Our engineers can develop firmware for microcontrollers and microprocessors of all, including:

> Espressif ESP8266, ESP32: Engineered for mobile devices, wearable electronics and IoT applications, the ESP32 and ESP8266 both achieve ultra-low power consumption with a combination of several types of proprietary software. These MCUs are popular for IoT devices in both the consumer and industrial sectors and Witekio has deep expertise in developing firmware for both.

> Silicon Labs EFM32: The low-power EFM32 MVUs are ideal for ultra-low power applications. With the right firmware, engineers can extend battery life for what Silicon Labs refers to as “hard-to-reach”, power-sensitive consumer and industrial applications. The EFM32 MCU can optimize power consumption while still performing embedded tasks in real-time.

> Nordic Semiconductor nRf52: Designed for Bluetooth Low Energy and Bluetooth Mesh development, the nRf52 has user-programmable LEDs, and is optimized for low-battery performance. It can be powered by either a USB or a battery making it a versatile choice.

> ST Micro STM32F0 to F7, STM32MP1: The ST Microelectronics STM32F0 and STM32MP1 series processors are versatile and popular choices for a variety of IoT devices. Witekio engineers have deep experience developing the firmware for these ST processors and can help project managers choose the right one for their targeted use case.

> NXP i.MX 6, 7 & 8, LPC55xx: Witekio has mastered all software aspects on i.MX 6 and i.MX 7 and has developed strong expertise on the i.MX 8. Over the years we’ve developed, optimized, and maintained numerous software systems based on NXP’s i.MX family and experimented with many software architectures, from the simplest to the most complex heterogeneous multicore processing architectures.

> Texas Instruments Sitara Platform: TI’s Sitara Platform is based on the ARM Cortex-A8 processor and supports high-level operating systems. The processors are enhanced with image and graphics processing, peripherals, and industrial interface options such as EtherCAT and PROFIBUS, all of which Witekio engineers can leverage in developing the right firmware for your device.

> Xilinx Zynq Ultrascale+ MPSoC: With 64-bit processor scalability and combining real-time control with soft and hard engines for graphics, video, waveform, and packet processing, the MPSoC offers many possibilities for industrial IoT deployments. XZ presents three distinct variants including dual application processor (CG) devices, quad application processor and GPU (EG) devices, and video codec (EV) devices, all of which can be leveraged by Witekio firmware developers.

> Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Platform and APQ8016e: This processor is an ideal solution and popular choice for IoT applications requiring computing power and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, such as connected homes, building automation, industrial control, digital signage, smart surveillance and other IoT devices. It is capable of both 32- and 64-bit processing and its video core support popular codecs including H.264, MPEG4, MPEG2 and VC1.

> Intel Atom E38xx, Celeron, Core i, Coffee Lake: Long a standard for more powerful computing needs, Intel’s low-power processors are common choices for industrial IoT devices. E3800 product family is a system-on-chip (SoC) designed for intelligent systems, delivering high computing, graphic, and media performance while operating in a wide range of thermal conditions.

> Renesas RZ A1: With an ARM Cortex-A9 core and supporting up to 2 Displays with WXGA resolution without the need for external memory, the RZ/A1H enables very compact embedded designs without the need to worry about memory procurement and memory EOL. Flexible, compact, and supporting a wide range of peripherals, it is a processor that has some traction in the industrial IoT domain.

> NVIDIA Jetson TX2 and Nano: NVIDIA claims that the Jetson TX2 is “7.5-watt supercomputer on a module”. Built with AI and ML applications in mind, it’s a good choice for edge computing applications on connected devices. It is easy to integrate with other hardware and offers a variety of standard connectors to make architecting your device faster and easier.

> Atmel SAMA5: Defined by their best-in-class low-power and high-performance, the SAMA5 MPU supports multiple memory options including DDR3, LPDDR3 and QSPI Flash. A wide set of peripherals, user interfaces and security features simplify firmware development and design for control panels, secure IoT gateways, barcode scanners, printers, and POS terminal applications.

> Rockchip RK33xx: A versatile processor, the RK33 series of MPUs can be found in a variety of projects including home automation, the automotive sector, smart vision, streaming media, and the retail industry. With support for high-resolution displays (RGB/LVDS/MIPI-DSI/eDP interface, up to a resolution of 2048×1536) it is an option for many IoT and connected devices with a focus on displays in the UI.

> Microchip PIC18: This combination of peripherals on the PIC18 simplifies the creation of customized firmware, improves system response time, reduces the number of external components, and cuts code development time. It is a common choice for devices in the industrial control, consumer, automotive, motor control, and capacitive touch sensing spaces.

OS Firmware Development 

Witekio engineers have deep experience developing firmware for all major operating systems. While customer demands shift with time and OSs come in and out of vogue, Witekio’s engineers have the expertise to deliver robust, resilient, and high-performing firmware no matter the OS choice that your project team makes.

> Baremetal: BareMetal is an exokernel-based single address space OS created by Return Infinity. It is written in assembly to achieve high-performance computing with minimal footprint with a “just enough operating system” (JeOS) approach. It is a popular choice for IoT devices in a virtualized environment and was first released in 2008, with the most recent release being in 2017.

> RTOS: freeRTOS, safeRTOS, Micrium OS, Zephyr, Wind River: Witekio engineers develop and design firmware for a wide variety of different real-time operating systems or RTOSs. These OSs are intended to serve real-time applications that process data as it comes in, typically without buffer delays.

> Linux Debian, Yocto: Witekio is a longtime supporter of the Linux OSS community and an active contributor to the Yocto Project. This open-source collaboration project provides templates, tools, and methods to help you create custom Linux-based systems for embedded products regardless of hardware architecture. Witekio engineers have deep expertise in Linux and Yocto development and it is a popular choice for connected devices across the industrial spectrum.

> Android AOSP: The Google-backed Android Open-Source Project is an open-source operating system for IoT and mobile devices. Witekio engineers draw on the AOSP repository to develop the source code needed to create custom variants of the Android OS, port devices, and accessories to the Android platform and ensure devices meet compatibility requirements.

> Azure Sphere: Microsoft’s solution for securely connecting billions of new devices each year, Azure Sphere is designed to help protect your data, privacy, physical safety, and infrastructure with its as-standard security service. With a focus on security, it is an increasingly popular option for Azure-connected devices and IoT networks drawing on the Microsoft cloud infrastructure.

Connectivity and firmware

Connectivity goes hand in hand with IoT devices and Witekio engineers are skilled in developing firmware that meets your connectivity needs.

Whether reliant on cell phone networks, Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth, or Bluetooth Low Energy, or using the LoRa WAN protocol for long-range, low-energy connectivity, our expertise in firmware development is invaluable.

> Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is a popular connectivity option that can address a wide variety of use cases. Drawing only moderate power, it offers moderate to long-range connectivity with high data rates and low latency. The Wi-Fi spectrum is unlicensed which is a consideration when budgeting running and support costs.

> 4G LTE: 4G connectivity requires low or very low energy to operate with a significant range, making it an attractive option for IoT devices. There is a tradeoff, however, in data capacity which is significantly lower than Wi-Fi even if latency is approximately equal. The 4G spectrum is licensed and there are ongoing costs for connecting to the network that needs to be considered before developing firmware for the 4G connection.

> Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy: Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) have a distinct advantage over other connectivity options as they demand very little energy or battery power. While the energy needs are low, the range is also much reduced as a result. This is ideal for some IoT devices where range and data needs are low, and as Bluetooth is an unlicensed spectrum and latency is not an issue, it is a common choice for device makers.

> LoRa WAN: Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRa WAN) was developed in France by Semtech and is a patented technology for connectivity on a license-free sub-gigahertz radio frequency band. With a low data rate (though not quite as low as alternatives like Sigfox) and very low power demands and long-range, it is a good choice for devices that require connectivity but are outside of the 4G network or Wi-Fi range.

Firmware for Cloud

Witekio engineers are skilled in designing systems and developing firmware for cloud providers of all types.

While some clients prefer to deploy in a private cloud, many opt for public cloud options from one of the three largest cloud providers: Amazon and AWS, Microsoft and Azure, or Google and GCP.

> Avnet IoTConnect: Witekio’s parent company, Avnet, maintains a cloud computing option that many IoT clients find perfect for their purposes. This enterprise, AI, data, and IoT platform offers the computing power of the cloud along with much attention to security, privacy, interoperability, and industry standards. Witekio engineers can develop firmware that perfectly connects with Avnet’s enterprise cloud platform.

> Azure with Azure IoT Hub and DPS: Microsoft’s Azure IoT Hub and its complementary Device Provisioning Service are both common choices for device makers. Witekio’s firmware development team is skilled at writing the firmware that connects your device with Microsoft’s cloud-hosted solution and includes per-device authentication, built-in device management, and scaled provisioning.