Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America
The tech industry loves buzzwords for new technology: AI, thin clients, set-top boxes, social distancing technologies, and so on. (For some of the latest examples see the Gartner Hype Cycle.) When a buzzword goes mainstream, both experts and non-technologists know that what is really meant: the technology has big money associated with it. Think Silicon Valley venture capital or the California Gold Rush. IoT, or the Internet of Things, falls into the category an emerging technology that has taken off.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, IoT is "a vast network of physical objects with embedded microchips, sensors, and communications capabilities that link people, machines, and entire systems through the Internet.” I recall speaking at an event several years ago where I quoted a statistic predicting that soon there would be more “things” online than people. I got some funny looks back then, but that’s just what happened. Today we have many types of everyday items that we control by voice via our phones or computers, at home and remotely: indoor and outdoor LED lighting, doorbells with cameras and smart thermostats, to name a few.
IoT is also permeating all areas of industry. Having online sensors and real-time data reporting confers obvious consumer-satisfaction and cost-efficiency benefits. Office equipment reports when its parts need replacing. Public garbage receptacles “tell” local authorities when they’re full. Commercial-grade coffee machines keep coffee shop owners well stocked with beans and customers caffeinated. Occupancy sensors in buildings control the HVAC and even livestock have sensors attached to track movement and behavior.
All this instant gratification makes IoT very desirable. But collecting all this valuable online data and statistics is also a goldmine for the business community. Take this speaking topic from a recent IoT seminar: “How the subscription model can strengthen your IoT business in times of crisis.” From a business standpoint, in other words, the IoT product isn’t the actual product, it’s the management of your digital data -- and selling it back to you in a format you will pay for. Another big business issue – and opportunity – is figuring out how to secure this data.
Those of us in the power electronics industry are concerned with powering the sensors used in IoT applications. This ranges from energy harvesting technologies to battery technology such as lithium thionyl chloride (LiSOCl2) cells, 40-year life batteries. We are also concerned with the power for the infrastructure that communicates with the sensors and that processes the data to servers, as well as the computers that push it back out to the subscribers. This means improving efficient power management and conversion techniques, both AC to DC and DC to DC from nanowatts and energy harvesting to Kilowatts.
The needs in the IoT world are manifold -- and some are not even thought of yet. Pressure is high to reduce the costs of IoT technology since the product is actually the service and processed data. The hardware is the enabler to make it all work, but the value of the data, and its collection and processing, will determine if it’s viable or not.