Working Group Planning Open IIoT Standard

By Claire Swedberg

The Eclipse Foundation has launched a working group for the Industrial Internet of Things software standard known as Sparkplug, to ensure the interoperability of IoT systems for energy and gas, automotive and other industrial users.

The Eclipse Foundation, an Internet of Things (IoT) open-source software organization, has formed a new working group for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), consisting of end users and technology companies. This open-source group is focused on the Sparkplug specification to make IIoT deployments interoperable for companies in the oil and gas, energy and manufacturing sectors, as well as other industrial sites, and for smart cities.

The Eclipse Foundation, an Ottawa-based, international open-source software non-profit organization, was formed in 2004 to serve as a vendor-neutral, open and transparent community, first for a development tool known as Eclipse IDE. Its working group's founding members include Chevron, security device company Canary, IoT solution providers Cirrus Link and ORing, IoT messaging platform provider HiveMQ and software firm Inductive Automation.

Frederic Desbiens

The foundation has four areas of focus: cloud-native Java for the enterprise, automotive, the Eclipse IDE and other tooling, and IoT (which was launched in 2013). Its IoT projects are aimed at providing building blocks to develop open-source IoT systems. With the Sparkplug Working Group, the aim is to provide an easy way for developers and solution providers to build an RFID or IoT solution, and to then manage it via the MQTT protocol, even if it captures data from a variety of sensors or readers.

The Sparkplug Working Group will define technical specifications and improve the interoperability and scalability of IIoT solutions, according to Frederic Desbiens, the foundation's IoT and edge-computing program manager. By doing so, he says, the group can provide an overall framework for device interoperability "out of the box" for IIoT products and software. The working group meetings will be virtual.

Sparkplug, originated by Cirrus Link, is designed to work with MQTT, a protocol commonly used in IoT deployments designed for users to create topics for which data can be stored and managed. It has close to 400 open-source projects currently under way, Desbiens says. The Sparkplug open-source specification will provide IoT solutions with a topic name space for IoT data (where data is stored and managed), a payload for each name space, and session management for users of the MQTT protocol widely used in IoT deployments.

In the example of a warehouse using UHF RFID readers to capture ID numbers from tags placed on inventory, the topic name space is the assigned space for data storage (such as inventory management), while the payload is the carrying capacity of that data unit. By assigning name space and payload, the system automatically directs data to the appropriate space and knows what that storage space consists of.

The session management is the creation of a session for multiple transactions. For instance, if a tag is being read multiple times, the software can automatically create a session related to those reads. By offering session management, Sparkplug prevents the need for the configuration of these sessions. "It's much leaner and more focused" than typical IoT deployments, Desbiens explains.

Sparkplug originated from Cirrus Link and operates as a stack on top of MQTT. With the working group, the specification will be developed in the open. The group's first step will be to create a compatibility program, so as to allow certification for IoT technology companies. The Eclipse Foundation will then offer an open-source compatibility kit that businesses will be able to download and use to certify that their products are Sparkplug-compatible.

While Chevron is at the front and center of these efforts, Desbiens notes, the working group hopes to attract members from other markets as well, such as automotive or manufacturing. "You can join any time," he states. "You only have to be a member of the Eclipse Foundation." Currently, there are approximately 45 IoT-specific projects under way at Ecplise, and 40 members in the Eclipse IoT working group.

Once the kit is available, companies that acquire Sparkplug-compliant devices—such as RFID readers or wireless sensors—could deploy the hardware. Sensors or readers could run Sparkplug and MQTT, or they could be connected to another device (such as a Raspberry Pi) that runs Sparkplug, to then manage the RFID read data being captured. MQTT Sparkplug will not only make implementations easier, Eclipse predicts, but also enable the scaling of systems and make data capture on the edge easier. In fact, the organization indicates, integration time for IoT systems in new facilities will be much lower than in the case of standard deployments.

The working group's long-term objective is to drive adoption in the market for Sparkplug, Desbiens says, with a focus on both small and large companies that are market players themselves, rather than technology companies. In the energy industry, for instance, IoT systems that provide preventative maintenance, remote monitoring in oil fields, leak detection and manufacturing production issues are areas of IoT growth. "Once Sparkplug is widely adopted," he adds, "all of those devices will interoperate without the need to configure. That's not only a time-saver, but a huge operational improvement."

Because the standard is vendor-neutral, Desbiens says, there is no way for extensions to be proprietary. "We need a level playing field," he states. "It's an exciting time to work in this space."