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Startup Preps OS for the Internet of Things

14 November 2013

A company formed by engineers with experience in low-power computers who previously worked on one of the first sub-notebook computers has written a compact operating system for Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The startup, Paqet Systems Corp. (Los Altos, Calif.), is just over one year old. Its chief scientist, Ian Cullimore, has extensive experience acquired working on a number of operating systems, including those used in Psion handheld computers, MS-DOS used in the Poqet PC, and the operating system that became Symbian, used by Nokia in its mobile phones.

That experience has been brought to bear in Paqet's operating system, PaqetOS, which has been optimized for IoT client devices that require extremely small code and data with ultra-low power characteristics, yet require connectivity and interoperability with the Internet.

Although the OS is essentially complete and has been ported to several ARM-based microcontrollers, the small company is not releasing the software generally. A software developers' kit is available but only for selected developers.

For now, Paqet is working on proof-of-concept demonstrators and on forming relationships with strategic partners. The company is also looking to raise a first round of venture capital.

PaqetOS can reside in as little as 2.5 kilobytes of flash memory and a few hundred bytes of RAM while still providing Internet connectivity. This would make the operating system suitable for wireless sensor nodes, as it could run on the smallest processor cores while retaining UDP/IP connectivity.

The User Datagram Protocol is one of the baseline elements of the Internet Protocol. PaqetOS has been specifically aimed at the Cortex range of processor cores from ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England) and particularly the M0+, M0 and M3 cores used in microcontrollers.

At its largest, PaqetOS typically uses less than 16 kbytes of flash and 8 kbytes of RAM while providing a full TCP/IP stack, micro web server, peripheral drivers for MEMS sensors over serial links and user applications.

The company name—Paqet—includes a modest pun, as the company was founded by four former engineers from Poqet Computers—Cullimore, Leroy Harper, Stav Prodromou and Steve Jordan. The Poqet PC was a pocket computer designed in 1988 that ran the MS-DOS operating system for 100 hours on two AA batteries. The design included extensive power management techniques, including halting the CPU between key strokes.

At Paqet, Jordan holds the CEO position, Prodromou is chairman while Harper serves as vice president of business development.

With regard to PaqetOS, Cullimore told Electronics 360: "I pretty much knew what I wanted to do this time around. We started with a clean sheet and took a fresh look at what was required with an Internet-centric OS and including ultra-low-power and small code."

Cullimore's initial job is mainly done, so the venture capital will be used primarily for taking on staff to support technical and business development and then sales and marketing, he said. "We're in pretty good shape technically," he said. "There is always more you can do, of course."

PaqetOS has already been ported to Cortex-based microcontrollers from NXP, Freescale, Atmel, Texas Instruments, Energy Micro and STMicroelectronics and is running on development boards.

But Paqet's biggest challenge could be in persuading heavyweight companies, such as Cisco, Oracle and IBM, that a new operating system is required for IoT and that technology from a small startup deserves to be taken seriously. But the founders' pedigrees and extensive experience working with ARM at various previous companies should help.

"ARM is aware of us and we know them very well. And then there are the ARM licensees who are also aware of us," said Cullimore.

The operating system is based on a custom kernel that is optimized for Internet of Things and machine-to-machine autonomous devices and to get the lowest power possible out of a system. It is not a real-time operating system, although it does exhibit very good RTOS characteristics, Cullimore said. Rather than use conventional threads and processes it uses a hybrid model of state machine and task scheduler kernel together with BerkeleyBSD Socket APIs and proprietary system APIs.

The cross-compatibility of the ARM processor family means that although the OS is aimed at the low-power microcontrollers it will also run on other Cortex cores—and the ARM1176JZF-S that resides insides Broadcom's BCM2835, the system chip for the Raspberry Pi board. "Yes, we already have a PaqetOS port to Raspberry Pi running in the lab," Cullimore said.

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