IoT’s Many Different Forms

Industrial and consumer IoT are developing in multiple guises.

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The Internet of Things is settling into widespread industrial applications, along with precision agriculture, while consumer IoT continues to find its way into the home through smart speakers and their digital assistants, such as Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit, and Google Home.

The Internet of Cows and the Internet of Tomatoes may sound like fanciful subjects, yet there is serious technology in these agricultural IoT areas. Monitoring the gestation of dairy cows and keeping tabs on the ripeness and flavor of tomatoes are enabled now with IoT.

IoT is not a technology. Not at all,” says David Pugh, technology analyst at IDTechEx. “It builds on lots of other technologies. It’s a business model. And it’s about getting value out of the data produced. We’re talking about devices talking to devices. We’re not talking about mobile phones. We’re not talking about Apple Watches. We’re talking about machines talking to other machines.”

This has been enabled to a large extent by the continued drop in the price of chips. “Remember back to 1992, when Bluetooth first became a thing,” said Pugh. “A Bluetooth module design cost $50. Now everyone here has at least two Bluetooth modules in our pockets. They cost less than 50 cents each. There is so much that goes into IoT. The foundation of IoT is sensors. Typically, a sensor senses something, then we do something with that information. Then we can access communication information. We send the data somewhere, and then we power it, using energy harvesting, and you supposedly have got the storage. For most people, this is all IoT is—the hardware. And that’s that. There is so much more to think about if you’re running a project.”

The IDTechEx analyst sees industry standards efforts taking hold in 2018. Next year will also witness more 5G wireless communications trials. The Winter Olympics in South Korea will have demonstrations of 4.8G technology, which will be called 5G for the sake of simplicity, according to Pugh.

Some of the recent M&A can be tied to the IoT, as well, as companies position themselves to tap into more markets. TDK’s $1.3 billion acquisition of InvenSense last May is a case in point.

“Nowadays, customers for markets are looking for solutions,” says Noboru Saito, a senior vice president of TDK, and CEO of TDK’s Sensor Systems Business Company. “This is not limited to each piece-by-piece element – modules, or in adding the software to the sensor fusion. Having a wider variety of those sensor elements is necessary to meet what the customers require. Motion, gyro, and accelerometer, maybe the height pressure, are needed to control a drone. And to control the hovering, the pressure sensor is taking a really important role.”

InvenSense was widely known for providing iPhone sensors to Apple. “The mobile market, we continue to develop,” Saito says. “That’s one area. Other areas, for example – IoT type of things, this is also our area. And also the entertainment area, gaming. And we should not forget, although they have not started in fair volume yet, automotive. It’s going to be one of the major playing fields for InvenSense products. It takes time. It takes a longer time than developing the smartphone market and so on, but we have already started promoting activities and utilizing TDK’s customer portfolios. We have more than 40 years of history dealing with automotive customers.”


Fig. 1: Internet of Cows. Source: More than Human Lab, Victoria University of Wellington

Who’s making money?
Ed Abrams, vice president of enterprise IoT at Samsung Electronics America, notes his company’s perspective on IoT is from the B2B or B2B2C angle. “Now we’ve all seen the data that says that IoT is going to be huge, that there are going to be billions of devices, trillions of dollars in terms of economic value,” he says. “My wife keeps asking me every time I come home at night, where’s our fair share? We haven’t figured that out yet, because while there’s all this great projection, while there’s all these really thoughtful ideas about where IoT is going to grow to, there’s a fundamental problem that a lot of people have when they think about IoT. And it stems from the definition of IoT. IoT talks about devices and IP addresses. It talks about machine-to-machine connectivity. There’s nothing in here about business value, or value to the end consumer or to the individual. And these are the things that you really need to think about as you approach an IoT engagement, and that that you really need to leverage in order to drive business value. Now, the good news is we’re starting to see more and more customers who are recognizing how to capture business value out of the IoT space.”

This requires more than just technology, though. It requires a different way of approaching the technology and understanding how to utilize an ever increasing amount of data.

“Data is only useful if it becomes insights,” Abrams said. “Insights can only be acted on if they are given to customers, to employees, to consumers, at the right point in time. So as we think about IoT and we think about making successful IoT engagements, it’s not about the sensors on the edge, it’s not about the management platform in the middle, it’s about getting the insights out of those things to drive success from a customer perspective.”

That typically requires big data analytics, and this part of the market has been booming.

“In the last year or so, we really saw that there were a number of customers coming to us that had sensor data – more than before,” said Donna Prlich, Hitachi Vantara’s chief product officer for data integration and analytics. “We always had a few here and there, but it was like, wow, there’s really something happening, to the tune of about 140% growth in the number of customers we were seeing there. So we really started to see where these worlds of big data and IoT were starting to come together. And not surprisingly, that’s where there was a lot of value in looking at an IoT system that’s already up and running. And where there’s additional value, maybe competitive pressures, where you’re realizing that the data is actually going to help you to derive that value you need over the next 5 to 10 years to increase growth, increase margin, as the world changes.”

Redefining the IoT
Part of what is underway here is a redefining of what exactly the IoT is—and what it is not.

“It’s not a single technology,” Prlich said. “It’s not even going to be one vendor’s technology. There’s a lot of big, broad topics. Open source will come into play. We’ll start to develop standards. There’ll be standards, there’ll be regulation. All of that. There won’t be one single vendor to solve that problem.”

Karen Matthews, Corning’s market research manager and information manager, looks at IoT from a completely different side.

“What problem is IoT solving?” she asks. “I contend it’s convenience. IoT is making it convenient for people to do the things that they want to do every day. Ultimately, to the company, that might mean something a little bit different, but to your end user, I subscribe that it’s convenience. Behind all of this convenience is the supply chain. Sensors are one part of it, but they certainly are not the whole part, that’s just the start point. Ultimately, this is building a community and building a green world.”

Connectivity leads to convenience, Matthews maintains. “If it’s convenient for us, everything is just one finger swipe away. Then you can go for a run in the morning, and everything is just connected. Your house knows she ran this path, and this is the normal path that she runs in the morning, so she’ll get home at this time, shower cuts on, gets to the right temperature, coffee starts getting made, something pulls out the clothes, the car knows in about an hour or however long it takes you to get ready, this is the time it turns on. Everything, again, turns back to convenience. And it starts to connect all of these industries together. So now, it’s not just about your individual devices, it’s about all of these devices being connected. So if we say that connectivity is the solution to the problem of solving convenience for people, then what is IoT? It’s everything being connected. It’s connected things.”

The IIoT
The Industrial Internet of Things, in contrast, is different in scope and purpose.

“We’re essentially, in many different ways, taking our knowledge of the real world, which is an analog world in how it interacts with electrical signals in the signal chain, in the power chain, and also how it interacts with radio waves in order to get a particular quality-of-service with your wireless sensor network,” says Ross Yu, product marketing manager for dust networks products at Analog Devices/Linear Technology. “A wireless sensor network is both a hardware offering and a network offering together. It’s a slightly different way to offer things as opposed to just silicon with an example network stack.”

Industrial IoT is more than factory floors and manufacturing automation, according to Yu. It also can take in high-end commercial applications, large commercial buildings, and shopping malls, he notes.

Real-time data is important to IIoT technology, as well, and wireless sensor networks can be scalable, Yu says.

Andrew Frame, Arm’s director of IoT technologies, comes at industrial/commercial IoT from the standpoint of precision agriculture. “A lot of people think agriculture is not very high tech,” he says. “There’s actually technology being used in agriculture for years. And sometimes it’s way ahead of the rest of the world. Auto-steering tractors have been around for nearly 20 years.”

What’s driving the agricultural implementation of IoT is the addition of some 2 billion people to the world’s population by 2050, Frame notes. One crucial issue is the global supply of water – a point driven home to millions of Californians after four drought years. Aquifers across the U.S. are being depleted, and there are problems in many developing nations in having potable water for farming and other needs.

Cellular technology and mobile phone use are transforming agriculture, according to Frame. “Connectivity in agriculture is an interesting challenge, as well,” he says. Tall corn stalks, full of water, can impede some wireless transmissions.

The Internet of Cows is an interesting example of the agricultural side. Accelerometers and other types of sensors are making it easier to monitor and track the daily activities of dairy cows. A cow in heat could walk six times more than she normally does, according to data derived from fitness trackers applied to cows.

Satellite technology and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are other tools useful to farmers, Frame says. Farmers get visual data of their acreage, while drones can quickly show the condition of crop fields instead of the farmer walking around the property or riding a tractor.

Conclusion
The Internet of Things is taking hold in cornfields, industrial plants, offices, stores, and many environments. In the future, the technology will be coupled with artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable advanced driver-assistance systems and automated driving. IoT will directly impact the lives of people around the world, and the changes are starting to be noticeable.