The internet of things, or IoT, has been around as a phrase for around 15 years, and as a concept for much longer. Each year it gets hyped a little more on how it’s going to revolutionise our lives through ‘machine to machine’ communications.
It’s not the most creative hype – for me at least, hearing how my fridge will talk to the grocery store when I’m low on milk is getting a little trite – but the numbers wrapped around it are amazing. ABI forecast wireless connected devices will rise from 16bn in 2014 to over 40bn by 2020, and that’s one of the more conservative estimates I’ve seen, there are some big numbers out there.
Whatever the impact this has on commerce, data, or how I buy my milk, one thing is clear – the impact on electronics will be huge. This is an external force large enough to totally reinvent many parts of the electronics industry, particularly in wireless technology and sensors.
To scale up wireless connectivity to the level required to fuel the IoT means a step change in the range of devices that contain transmitters receivers. That in turn creates three major requirements for those transmitters:
Tiny – transmitters will need to be added to some pretty small devices without messing with aesthetics or usability.
Cheap – they can no longer cost dollars, they need to be fractions of cents
Low power – they either need incredibly long battery life or to harvest ambient energy – there’s no way we can rely on consumers to change batteries to keep connectivity up and running (think smoke alarms!)
Clearly none of these requirements are exactly earth shattering, and electronic component designers strive for all of them all of the time, but the degree to which they need to change for the IoT is what’s disruptive, and way beyond today’s conventional R&D roadmaps – it’s the equivalent of Moore’s law on steroids.
However, that revolution is already underway. In September Stanford published an article, picked up by all the tech media, about an ‘ant-sized’ radio powered by the messages it receives. It delivers on all three fronts. While the Stanford / Berkeley team may have been first to go public, you can bet they’re not the only ones working on this.
So it can be done, but what about the impact on wider electronics? These technology advances driven by the IoT will create a halo impact on all manner of surrounding tech, from individual components through to finished products. For the consumer it’s probably pretty good news – cheaper, smaller, longer battery life. However for the electronics industry this is seismic disruption to established technology and to today’s healthy profit margins. This is a level of commoditisation that is likely to reinvent an industry, It’s going to be interesting to watch!
Guest Contributor, Kevin Yapp, uk.linkedin.com/pub/kevin-yapp/5/190/7aa