Starbucks Gives Microsoft’s Azure Sphere IoT Platform a Buzz
(Pictured above: Starbucks sets up shop inside the Microsoft booth at the National Retail Foundation’s Big Show in New York City.)
The IoT platform Microsoft plans to release this year literally created a buzz at this week’s annual National Retail Federation (NRF) show in New York, where Starbucks gave attendees caffeinated beverages brewed with the new Azure Sphere software.
Starbucks, among the first to indicate it would pilot Azure Sphere to gather telemetry from the machines in its stores, set up a makeshift coffee shop with espresso machines. It sat within a small section of the Microsoft booth at NRF that featured baristas making espressos for anyone passing through.
The purpose was to attract potential partners and customers to see the progress of Starbucks’ Azure Sphere pilot and the headway Microsoft is making with the development of its new complete IoT platform, announced last April, and released to preview back in September. Microsoft said that partners and customers are in the midst of various pilots.
Azure Sphere is a Linux kernel OS embedded on microcontroller units (MCUs) that are the size of a fingernail, for use in IoT endpoints. MCUs are small but critical components for IoT-connected devices such as sensors, as they provide the compute, signal processing and wireless connectivity.
The Azure Sphere MCUs enable real-time processing with Microsoft’s security subsystem, called Pluton. It enables a secure boot, monitors every device using locally installed certificates and has its own key management platform, random number generator and accelerates various cryptographic tasks.
Microsoft showcased the Starbucks pilot with Azure Sphere as an example of how it’s partnering with various brick-and-mortar merchants including Kroger, Michaels, Goodwill and other to help them provide better customer experiences and more efficient operations.
Jeff Wile, Starbucks senior VP of infrastructure enablement, said by embedding the Azure Sphere MCUs in the various coffee brewers and other machines in each store, it can gather telemetry to help predict a potential problem before it requires a repair.
“If we can avoid one service call per year in each store, it pays for the project,” Wile told Channel Futures.
Noting that the company is still early in its testing, Wile expressed confidence that Azure Sphere will help modernize its operations.
“We think that there’s a really good chance that’s attainable for us,” he said.
The Starbucks exhibit was the latest sign that Azure Sphere is on track. At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, distributor Avnet introduced and demonstrated its Azure Sphere MT3620 Starter Kit, a module that supports wireless connectivity and a subsystem for real-time communications, based on the MediaTek MT3620AN system on chip (SoC) for component suppliers seeking to build connected MCUs. Avnet was among the first distribution partners that committed to develop a starter kit during last year’s launch. Starbucks has worked with Avnet during the pilot, Wile said.
“We think Avnet has a nice platform, and there are others that have nice ones as well that we’re working with, but none of them are officially out,” Wile said.
The only certified Azure Sphere development kit that’s currently available is from Seeed Technology, a distributor in China.
Ed Nightingale, partner director of engineering for Microsoft’s Azure Sphere team, said Avnet joins Seeed and others in the pipeline such as USI, which will offer …