The recent TinyML Summit in March 2023 clearly exposed the advancements in TinyML, as well as the challenges of actually deploying the technology. The market is clearly in an early stage with thousands of projects being developed while very few have made it to production as yet. This article addresses the challenges of deploying TinyML solutions and discusses how the LwM2M standard may solve some of these issues.
While MCUs are becoming more powerful, machine learning models can be designed to utilize less resources. This enables the implementation of TinyML; deep learning models which can run on resource-constrained IoT devices. TinyML can be used to analyze raw sensor data locally which reduces or removes the need to send data to the cloud, lowers battery consumption and preserves data privacy.
Nevertheless, implementing intelligent IoT solutions does not solely rely on the ML model itself. It involves challenges such as implementing continual learning, enabling low-power wireless communication, managing devices remotely, ensuring secure communication, updating firmware (over the air) and enabling device interoperability.
LwM2M is an application-layer communication standard which simplifies messaging and device management for IoT devices. The protocol dictates a data format and defines device management mechanisms and standardized processes for firmware-over-the-air updates (FOTA). The protocol is well-suited for LPWAN standards such as NB-IoT and LTE-M.
While TinyML provides the device intelligence (using tooling such as Edge Impulse or Cartesiam.ai), the LwM2M protocol provides connectivity, standardized communication and device management. When combined, they create a holistic solution for smart IoT devices.
Cloud-based analysis of a device’s raw sensor data is inefficient due to the volume of data the device needs to transmit. A more efficient way is to process data from sensors directly on the device using TinyML. For example, analyzing the X, Y and Z values of the accelerometer can detect complex movements or vibrations which could give valuable insights, enabling use cases such as predictive maintenance, monitoring the utilization of valuable goods or classifying movements of people or animals.
These days, more and more smart sensors are being developed. In addition to their sensing capabilities, smart sensors come with an embedded MCU which runs the TinyML model and communicates only the detected patterns to the main MCU of the device. These TinyML integrated sensors are referred to as the Sensor 2.0 Paradigm by Prof. Vijay Janapa Reddi (Harvard University) during his recent lecture at the TinyML Summit. Smart sensors simplify the implementation of TinyML as it allows for retrofitting existing devices with TinyML capabilities without having to redesign the embedded firmware. In addition, it can solve privacy issues due to the true isolation of raw sensor data. Smart sensors can analyze voices or camera images while ensuring people’s privacy as data does not leak out to the main MCU of the device.
One of today’s key challenges is to keep the TinyML model reliable post-deployment. Oftentimes, datasets used for training purposes differ from real-world data, leading to inaccurate models. In addition, the environmental context may change over time (e.g. due to decalibration of industrial machines, or changing climate conditions) leading to deterioration of the model quality.
Continual learning refers to the ability of TinyML models to adapt over time. This can be accomplished by learning from new data sets without the need to retrain the model from scratch. Although the techniques to realize continual learning are well-known, the practical implementations are often missing when running the models on resource-constrained devices. Often, this has to do with a missing device-management layer which takes care of ML model lifecycle management.
LwM2M may be the missing link to realize continual learning as it comes with native support for remote configurations and firmware updates. Using proven methods, ML models can be updated continuously without having to physically access each device to update its firmware.
TinyML solutions for resource-constrained IoT devices are a catalyst for the development of intelligent solutions. To move beyond the current POC phase and start deploying actual TinyML applications, it is necessary to provide mechanisms for efficient communication, device and firmware management and secure connectivity. The use of the LwM2M protocol to manage TinyML models and provide connectivity is a path towards standardizing TinyML and enriching the ecosystem of intelligent IoT solutions.
A TinyML solution has been designed using the LwM2M standard. The Thingy:91, a development device which uses the nRF9160 SiP from Nordic Semiconductor. It runs the Zephyr OS operating system and was trained to detect three different motion patterns, as shown in the visual below.
The steps to implement the presented concept are as follows:
Data collection and labeling
Design and train the classifier
Deploy and test the classifier on the device
Provide network connectivity and device management by implementing a LwM2M client
Manage devices and data using a LwM2M server
The example uses the Edge Impulse platform to collect the data from the Thingy:91 accelerometer, train the ML classifier and generate standalone libraries for C++. The library containing the TinyML model can run on the device and control the LED signaling pattern detection. The Anjay LwM2M client provides a connectivity layer for the solution, handling low-level technology issues related to communication and secure data transmission.
Finally, the device is registered in the LwM2M server where the data is stored and visualized. Using the Coiote IoT Device Management portal from AVSystem, the device can be instructed to notify the server every time a specific pattern is detected, or to reduce the frequency to once every several seconds, minutes or hours and send a counter indicating the number of times a pattern has been detected.