Powering the IoT

Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD



The IoT has been one subject that has been on everyone’s mind for the last few years. Since then, we have moved from small gimmicky examples to the start of widespread implementation of the technologies. The IoT differs from other technological revolutions in that it has the potential to affect every area of our society, whether in the workplace, at home or in our leisure activities. It’s also given a boost to entirely new areas of technology, such as telemedicine, which will allow patients to be monitored at home with the results being send back to the health provider.

Industry will also benefit tremendously from the Industrial IoT by being able to make processes more efficient and better monitoring production equipment. Instead of changing parts when the component reaches a set number of work hours or operations, the part can be monitored until it is worn enough to justify replacement. And that replacement can take place during planned downtime, keeping the line moving. A recent analysis from Global Market Insights predicts that consumer electronics companies could boost production and operating processes by up to 40% due the implementation of IoT technologies.

If we are the receive the full benefits that the IoT is expected to deliver, we still have some work to do. At the edge of the IoT are millions, or even billions, of sensors that feed back measured data to the Cloud for processing, analysis and storage. These sensors, or clusters of sensors, are arranged in nodes that also feature basic processing and, usually, a wireless connection to a hub. The reason for the wireless connection is that nodes are usually situated in places that are hard to reach for wired communications. For a similar reason, most of the clusters are either self powered or battery powered. As they can be difficult to access, the batteries must be trusted to last for years before being replaced. Reaching that target, requires a combination of a battery that can keep its charge almost indefinitely, and efficient power transfer from the battery to the electronics. The electronics in the node are designed only to operate intermittently, as having a constant wireless connection to the hub or GSM network is power hungry. Every day it seems there are advances in all of these areas to make nodes more energy efficient.

There’s no time to rest on our laurels though, as systems designers have now decided that processing data in the cloud is too far from where the action occurs, and to have a sufficiently responsive system, we must more processing power to the edge of the network to perform calculations and carry out necessary actions. So soon we will be looking at nodes with more powerful, energy hungry processors for neural networks and AI processing. I guess it’s back to the drawing board for battery and power systems designers.