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Leveraging GPIOs for alerts, control and reduced costs

Matt Razutis

GPIOs help enterprises address broad array of business needs

While general-purpose input/output (GPIO) functionality traditionally has been included in many devices — including PCs and mobile phones — often they are not assigned a specific purpose and, as a result, may go unused. However, as technology becomes increasingly complex, GPIOs offer a simple solution to a wide range of business needs — and more and more organizations are taking advantage.

What is a GPIO?

The GPIO itself is an integrated circuit or pin that can be controlled by a user via manual means or automatically through a program. As newer devices have been introduced that allow for automated GPIO functionality, potential uses and benefits have expanded. If a system integrator decides to employ GPIOs in a specific, automated way, GPIOs can present enterprises with the opportunity to increase their bottom line by activating a resource that otherwise may have gone unutilized.

Traditionally, GPIOs functioned in a binary manner and, as a result, were used primarily for manual, on/off-type switches. An on/off switch for lighting, for example, could be considered a GPIO. While GPIOs previously allowed for only simple binary functions such as turning the lights on and off, today M2M/IoT capabilities allow GPIOs to control the light bulb itself and dim or brighten the bulbs as needed.

How IT teams are able to use GPIOs depends on circuitry, the individual needs of an enterprise, and the creative approach of the IT department itself. IT specialists can utilize GPIO functionality to control third-party circuits, turn something on and off, and integrate with another device.

Using GPIOs to Benefit Connected Enterprises

The presence of products and devices that can access and use community-based software is allowing enterprises to utilize GPIOs in new and innovative ways. In-vehicle applications present an excellent case study for understanding how GPIOs can be used to improve business functionality and reduce costs. Paramedic vehicles in particular present two important, GPIO-specific solutions.

First, GPIOs can be used by first responders for alert capabilities. Paramedics can be notified if the vehicle’s light bars are turned on, if an officer has hit a panic button, or if a narcotics cabinet has been opened. This type of trigger notification and activity history not only improves the safety and functionality of the vehicle itself, but also offers cost-saving measures. For example, purchasing departments can tell how many times a cabinet with certain supplies has been opened. Similarly, accountability can be improved, as access to controlled items such as narcotics can be electronically tracked.

While a manual report may show narcotics were accessed five times, electronic records provided via GPIO usage may indicate otherwise. GPIOs can provide both the trigger alert and as the activity history of a narcotics cabinet or other important component of the vehicle itself.

Second, GPIOs can be used for control capabilities. Several agencies in Southern California are using GPIOs on paramedic vehicles to automatically unlock the vehicle doors for responders, who may be rushing to the ambulance with a patient in critical condition. IT staff can program an application on a PC to ensure that once paramedics are within the WiFi range of the vehicle itself, they can simply hit an application shortcut and unlock the ambulance doors for a controlled amount of time. This functionality is enabled by a simple GPIO.

GPIOs offer seemingly endless potential for how, when, and where they can be leveraged in virtually every industry. They can be used to control larger circuits by way of additional relays; they can be automated by way of router API commands; and they can be automated through Cradlepoint’s software development kit (SDK) for controls based on event triggers, other devices, or input commands from the Internet.

Because GPIOs are in many typical devices, IT staff may not even be fully aware of the number of GPIOs already available within an enterprise. While GPIOs were traditionally only built for a specific need or function, consumer products now have them readily available. IT teams should consider GPIOs a resource that likely already exists within their enterprise and that is able to improve the company’s bottom line.

Explore In-Vehicle & M2M/IoT Solutions

Learn about Cradlepoint’s cloud-managed in-vehicle and M2M/IoT solutions, including extensibility docks, which increase the amount of available GPIO pins.