Schneider Electric said this week that it would tap MicroEJ (pronounced “micro edge”) to help bring containers to Schneider Electric’s industrial IoT products. While this might be a boring announcement to most, as someone who has been monitoring this industry for almost 10 years, I’m thrilled. I look at it as a tangible sign that industrial companies are finally ready to embrace developers.
MicroEJ makes a software abstraction layer that sits on top of a variety of industrial hardware. Its MICROEJ VEE software lets developers build applications and data models using Java, C, or other languages as opposed to having to learn weird proprietary languages used by industrial gear. With this deal, Schneider Electric is opening up its platform to traditional IT developers.
I’ve been talking to MicroEJ for quite some time, and have been impressed by its offering. Its virtual execution environment can run on a large number of popular real-time operating systems (RTOSes) and bare metal microcontrollers, including FreeRTOS, QP/C, ucOS, ThreadX, mBed OS, VxWorks, Integrity, and Linux. The software overlay lets traditional IT developers use their preferred languages to write code for the underlying device.
According to Fred Rivard, CEO of MicroEJ, what takes place in that virtual execution environment is akin to building a software-defined device. With the Schneider Electric deal, developers will now be able to build on Schneider’s EcoStruxure products. Schneider’s EcoStruxure is used in connected buildings and manufacturing. Products that will get software-defined devices include breaker boxes, uninterruptible power supplies, surge protectors, switchboards, and power meters.
Schneider Electric’s products are in homes and businesses in the forms of outlets, switches, breaker panels, and batteries; they’re also used by utilities to generate and transmit power. Indeed, the company’s approach to making its underlying hardware more accessible makes sense when considering that its energy products are currently part of an emerging trend to add intelligence to the electric grid.
As demand for electrons, specifically renewable electrons, increases, the world needs software to run on electrical gear in order to manage when a device gets power and how much power it might need. To be sure, some of the use cases can get quite complex (if you’d like to learn more about them, check out my interview with Schneider Electric’s Jaser Faruq in the podcast).
Letting outside programmers write some of these applications is a good idea. Historically, those working in electricity generation and transmission aren’t used to programming or the potential use cases that might arise from a more connected grid. Meanwhile, those in enterprise IT or those building consumer electronics aren’t used to writing software to control electrical boxes. MicroEJ containers can help bridge those gaps.
This is something we’ll see in other industries as well. It’s clear that after decades of saying no, or adopting technology super slowly, industrial equipment manufacturers and users of such equipment are realizing they need the speed and flexibility that arises from a more combined IT and OT environment.
And to take advantage of that speed and flexibility, they’ll need more developers. To that end, MicroEJ’s platform lets the OT welcome IT developers — without sacrificing some of the benefits associated with the proprietary hardware lying underneath.
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