More Efficient Things

Saving energy is critical for the Internet of Things, but there are some hurdles to overcome.

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By Qi Wang
There are many angles to consider when it comes to efficiency and the Internet of Things (IoT). At the architectural level, the IoT system consists of connected things, the networks and the cloud servers for massive data processing. Efficient data storage and servers means lower power consumption, which will result in millions of dollars in savings.

For the connected things themselves—typically small devices with sensors and radios— efficiency is measured by the power consumption and the size of the device or chips. And for the network that connects all the things, there will be lots of data transferred between the things and the cloud servers, with efficiency measured by the bandwidth and speed of the network.

There are some new angles for IoT efficiency, as well. A key attribute for connected things is efficient data exchange in a heterogeneous environment. At this point there are a number of different standards for that exchange—Zigbee, SA100.11, WirelessHART, Wireless USB, Bluetooth, Body Area Network, MiWi, Wi-Fi Direct, NFC, Z-Wave, XRF, RFID and many more—which could slow down progress. It may not be possible to have one standard for all applications, but we will have to reduce the number of protocol standards in order to improve the efficiency of communicating and exchanging data.

In the mobile world, vertical integration has proven to be the answer to addressing efficiency for the industry as a whole. There may be advantages of vertical integration in the era of IoT, but the downside of vertical integration is that it leads to silos where the collected data and the interface of a device may not be understood by another device. A closed system created by vertical integration works against the fundamental paradigm of IoT, where open source and freedom of exchanging data between different systems will be essential for the industry to thrive.

Finally—but certainly no less important—the efficiency challenge for the IoT must be addressed at an industry level. According to Warren East, CEO of ARM, “No one company can own the IoT space, and we see collaborations and partnership as being a critical ingredient in its success.” The whole industry, from chip and IP vendor, to foundries and EDA companies, must improve its efficiency in collaborating to bring the promises of IoT to reality.

We may not be too far from that goal. Check out a recent article on “the first IoT device you actually want to own.” The device is a smart egg tray to tell you how many eggs left in your fridge. The tray has a sensor in the bottom of each of its 14 egg cups that can tell whether there’s an egg present, and this information is transmitted wirelessly to some nameless server in the cloud, which can then feed the data to an app on your smartphone. Isn’t it neat? While I applaud the creative idea of this application of IoT, it also makes me wonder: Is this an efficient design? Do I really need to know exact how many eggs left in the fridge to make a decision to buy eggs or not? In the end, I cannot buy single eggs at the supermarket. But there may be some new efficiency angles here that we have never considered!

—Qi Wang is technical marketing group director at Cadence.