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Nubix Raises $2.7M To Bring Containers To Tiny IoT Devices

‘You can deploy the same container, the same application to both a Linux-based microprocessor as well as a real-time operating system [microcontroller unit], and that is what nobody else can claim on the planet right now,’ says Nubix CEO Rachel Taylor.

Nubix wants to make it as easy and scalable to develop and manage applications on tiny IoT devices at the edge as it is in the cloud. The solution? Container services for microcontroller units, or MCUs — tiny, low-power chips that power tens of millions of IoT devices from connected washer machines to heat sensors in oil refineries —which the company said is an industry first.

The San Francisco-based startup announced Wednesday that it has raised a $2.7 million funding round to continue development and expand sales and marketing for its edge-native application platform, which Nubix CEO and co-founder Rachel Taylor said is the only solution that supports container services for Linux-based devices and MCU devices that run on a real-time operating system, or RTOS, for short.

[Related: The 25 Hottest IoT And 5G Edge Services Companies: 2020 Edge Computing 100]

“You can deploy the same container, the same application to both a Linux-based microprocessor as well as a real-time operating system MCU, and that is what nobody else can claim on the planet right now,” she said in an interview with CRN.

Leading the new funding round, which brings the startup’s total funding to $4.5 million, is family office Tuscan Management. Other investors include Chevron Technology Ventures, the venture arm of oil giant Chevron, as well as Blackhorn Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in startups focusing on improving industrial resource efficiency.

Taylor, who started the company in 2017, said she believes enabling agile development and compute on MCU devices with containerization is a massive, untapped opportunity given that so many of the world’s existing IoT devices run on MCUs, which have far less processing power and memory capacity than the latest system-on-a-chip modules coming to the edge market from Intel and Nvidia.

“If you think about an oil and gas rig in the middle of the ocean with 30,000 data collection points, you’re not going to be able to put 30,000 microprocessors on those. The power consumption alone makes that unaddressable,” she said. “People are starting to accept that MCUs are the compute that’s there — and you can’t change the laws of physics, right? They’re there for a reason: They’re cheap. They’re low-power. They’re efficient, so how do you work with what you have instead of trying to force some other option?”

Container technology is key to making development and management of applications on IoT devices more agile and scalable, so that applications can be easily deployed to tens of thousands of devices without any disruption to the underlying software and operating system, according to Taylor.

“Now I’m no longer touching the firmware. When I want to send an update to the application logic or analytics, it’s running on that device,” she said. “It’s not a firmware update. I’m not going to risk breaking that device.”

What’s unique about Nubix’s container technology is that it’s very small in size — one-100th of the size of a Docker container or even smaller, according to the company, which means they are well-suited for the small memory capacity of MCU devices. Plus, Nubix’s containers have been architected to run on non-Linux operating systems, and they come with out-of-box support for I2C and other communications bus types that are used to interface with sensors.

Central to application development and management on Nubix’s platform is the Orchestration Hub, where applications can be created using a drag-and-drop interface that can then be deployed via containers to MCU devices and microprocessor devices. The drag-and-drop elements consist of what Nubix calls Tiny Services, which include pre-programmed building blocks for sensors, analytics and data management. The platform also supports custom code.

“We’ve put out a hypothesis that edge compute can be as powerful as the cloud with the same level of agility, analytics and intelligence that you see in cloud environments. And that that can all be brought to the tiny devices that already exist and live at the industrial edge,” Taylor said.

Nubix is selling its container platform in three ways: through cloud service providers, through system integrators and through independent software vendors.

Taylor said her company has already held multiple conversations with Microsoft’s Azure IoT team, which is tackling the connected MCU device market with its Linux-based Azure Sphere platform and with ThreadX, an RTOS Microsoft acquired in 2019. The company is also working with Arm to support its Mbed operating system and with other RTOS vendors.

“We don’t see Azure as competitive,” she said. “In fact, they’re going to be a major partner for us as we move forward an integrate with the products that they have.”

One early customer that is doing a proof of concept with Nubix is Surge Solutions, a Texas-based oil field operator focused on using technology to develop under-capitalized assets. Robert Fortenberry, co-founder and vice president of the company, said Nubix’s technology will help centralize the company’s data collection operations, which are traditionally very labor-intensive in the oil and gas industry.

“Being able to facilitate data collection at the end nodes of the business across all these different single point locations, where the data collection becomes important, will be really impactful for us as we grow and become more sophisticated,” he said.

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