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Tackling the Challenge of IoT Software Updates

It has become a familiar ritual of modern life: a notification on your smartphone shows that app updates have become available. What do you do? You tap to the download and then — voila, new features, bug fixes, and security improvements are installed. But there is a problem tackling the challenges of IoT software updates.

App stores have made software updates simple.

Software updates occur for roughly 3 billion smartphone owners worldwide. Then we have to count the 41.6 billion machines, sensors, cameras, and other connected devices that IDC forecasts will make up the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2025?

Until recently, the importance of quickly and efficiently delivering software and firmware updates to IoT devices has been under-recognized. But as these devices increase in cars, factories, farms, and any number of other environments.  Keeping all of the software up to date to either add functionality or ensure security is a growing and essential priority

The task of software updates comes with two significant challenges.

  • First, if an enterprise has hundreds or thousands of IoT devices deployed in the field, it is impractical, if not impossible, to perform updates manually.
  • Second, when executed remotely, pushing out software updates that can range from a few to a hundred megabytes or more can constrain bandwidth and drive up costs.
  • Problems can occur, especially when cellular uplinks perform updates.

Organizations must find answers to the challenges because it will always be easier and less expensive to improve rather than replace IoT devices.

For example, when new artificial intelligence (AI) features become available, through updates — it will be easier to install that come up with a new system. And because a vulnerability in just one device can threaten the entire network — it is essential to constantly provide every device with the latest security protections.

Fortunately, technology has emerged to eliminate manual updating while also addressing the bandwidth issue.

Technology is being successfully applied in the field, as experienced by the Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne. The company has attracted worldwide attention for its HAL — a wearable, cyborg-type robot that helps people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities regain movement.


Cyberdyne also makes an advanced cleaning robot, called CL02, that is deployed at various commercial locations, including Tokyo’s two major airports and shopping malls across Japan. Leveraging AI features and able to work without guide wires or magnetic tapes, the robots can record building layouts and map out cleaning routes dynamically and detect obstacles and ensure safety utilizing built-in 3D cameras.

To keep the robots’ software up to date efficiently and cost-effectively has been a major concern for Cyberdyne.

The company assessed three options: sending service engineers all around Japan to client facilities; recalling the robots to the company headquarters in Tsukaba, Japan; or remotely update to each individual robot.

The first option would have been labor-intensive, slow, and costly. The second was impractical because it would take robots – each of which is expected to have a five-year service life – out of service for an undetermined period. The third would raise bandwidth and scalability concerns.

Cyberdyne decided to use technology that seamlessly rolls out software updates to its Linux-based robots in the field.

The rollout was accomplished without engineer intervention and zero downtime, allowing the company to continue expanding its robot fleet while controlling operational costs.

With this technology, containerized software packages that bundle everything the robots need — applications together with all their dependencies — are automatically downloaded and installed in the robots.

A major innovation, a form of data compression takes place where only code that has changed is transmitted to the robots, rather than the entire software package. For Cyberdyne, that can mean the difference between 500 MB or just 20 MB per robot – an enormous savings of time and bandwidth.

Bug fixes and new features are now delivered with unprecedented speed.

Cyberdyne’s customers don’t have to worry about robot software maintenance interrupting their cleaning schedules. Cyberdyne is even able to publish updates through an app store that enables its customers to update their robots according to their own timetable and cleaning schedule.

Cyberdyne’s experience demonstrates a mechanism for software updates in the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective way possible is a critical component of a successful and long term IoT strategy.

As the number of IoT devices continues to boom, it’s a topic the industry will increasingly be talking about as it looks to solve the problem of IoT software updates.

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