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Here's how Microsoft is helping companies build IoT hardware

Blair Hanley Frank | March 31, 2017
Labs in the US, Germany and China offer expertise on building connected devices.

Microsoft has also partnered with a set of ecosystem partners, including Cisco, Dassault and Seeed Studio to help lab participants with areas outside of the Redmond company’s expertise.

“When you think about these new intelligent systems, these new products, you have multiple elements that need to come together. Hardware, industrial design, software, cloud services, all the way through to natural user interface for these products,” Kevin Dallas, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for IoT and intelligent cloud business development, said in an interview. “It’s quite a lot of technology, and it’s easy to get lost in that technology in terms of delivering backend products.”


Entering the labs

Getting into the labs requires an online application, which asks for information about what a company is working on, the size of their team, and other details. Microsoft doesn’t charge for a visit to the Insider Labs, but the company does handpick the teams that get to participate.

One such firm was New Sun Road, a company based in Berkeley, California, that builds solar power systems for the developing world.

“We basically needed to fill some holes,” NSR co-founder Jalel Sager said. “Not just in the cloud platform, but also around some of those IoT devices that would take that information up to the cloud.”

In NSR’s case, the staff at the labs helped in a variety of different product areas, including circuit board design and picking out which Microsoft cloud services made the most sense. In the event NSR encountered a snag that the lab engineers couldn’t solve, it was possible for them to get ahold of a member of the Microsoft product team who could answer their question.

The team at Sarcos Robotics came into the IoT/AI labs with the aim of getting their forthcoming set of robots hooked up to the cloud. The company was previously a part of Raytheon, and has plenty of experience building human-controlled robots. Ben Wolff, the company’s chairman and CEO, said that Sarcos went to the Redmond lab for help with getting its Guardian S robot connected to Azure.

“Historically, we have not collected any data from the sensors [on a robot] or used the sensor data in any way other than to just control the real-time operation of the robot,” he said.

In his view, changing technology means Sarcos customers can benefit from using sensor data to monitor a robot’s performance as well as get information about the environment it’s in. Work that the Sarcos team did with Microsoft will allow the robot to be used as a platform for collecting sensor data and bringing it into the cloud for further analysis.

Engagement with the labs doesn’t stop after a company leaves the building. Participants in the program are able to reach back out to Microsoft for more help if they need it, and the program does allow repeat visits.


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