The M2M toll bridge

The Internet of Things gets a “stargate” in Eclipse Ponte

Chris Mayer

New project aims to increase security, standardise data formats and messaging protocols.

While the “Internet of Things” is only just gaining ground in corporate circles, the Eclipse Foundation has acted as a thriving hub for machine-to-machine (M2M) technology projects. Rather than resting on established projects like Paho, Mihini and Koneki, a new proposal has shored up at the open source foundation promising to solve many of M2M’s biggest problems.

The scope of Eclipse Ponte is threefold. Its primary purpose is to define a “simple REST API” that exposes multiple protocols such as MQTT (recently targeted by OASIS to be standardised) and CoAP. Without a lingua franca for M2M, ensuring that devices can communicate with one another is impossible unless there is a standard API to link them together.

With some many devices out in the open and exposable, Ponte also plans to tackle security by defining and building an embeddable “user-driven security solution”, based on OAuth2, to put minds at ease. With this in place, the owner and the end user are able to authorize access on any given machine.

The project’s creators also want to “embrace” and “convert” multiple data formats, including JSON and XML, with the long-term goal of ushering in a common representation of sensor and actuator data.

It is a bold and noble intention to bridge together a rather fragmented landscape, but is it biting off more than it can chew? After all, the Internet of Things encompasses many different devices with varying requirements, as well as even more companies, each with very specific individual needs. Is establishing best practices early a mistake?

Its creator Matteo Collina doesn’t think so. Collina admits that it might be hard to define a protocol that appeases everyone, but believes it can be achieved by keeping developers in “their comfort zone.”

Ponte’s initial contribution is based on QEST, a prototype broker described as “a stargate between the universe of devices speaking MQTT”. The project is coded in CoffeeScript, a JavaScript pre-processor, although there are plans to migrate QEST to JavaScript in order to open it up to a larger web developer audience.

However, as the Github project is built on top of node.js, certain legal hurdles need to be overcome before Ponte can move beyond just being a proposal.

There looks to be plenty work ahead for Ponte, but its initial proposal is encouraging. Easing the learning curve for developers keen to build M2M solutions is something that the field needs to truly live up to its lofty promises.

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