Sensors Drive IoT Intelligent Systems

How will sensor vendors make money in the IoT marketplace?


Back in 1980, it is believed that the first intelligent electronic sensor was proposed (by S. Middelhoek and J.B. Angell). Their idea was to combine a MEMS sensor, an analog-to-digital convertor, and a processor to analyze the analog data generated by the sensor. But, as many great electronics ideas, the technology to put this all together on a CMOS IC was not nearly ready at that time.

Today, we see that the evolution of basic sensors to intelligent electronic sensors is creating a revolution in IoT and Industrial IoT systems that gather useful data for analysis and action. Suddenly, sensor-based product development is exciting again and every day we see new products hit the market.

What is an intelligent electronic sensor?

A basic intelligent electronic sensor contains a sensing device, a computational block that analyzes sensing measurements, and a communication block to move digital information to a bigger system or the Cloud. Signal conditioning is required to amplify or tune the signal from the sensor and analog to digital (A to D) circuits convert real-world sensor data into digital signals for processing the data via software running on a processor.

The problem is that while intelligent sensors are sophisticated, cross multiple design domains, and provide tremendous value IoT system designers, the price that they individually command is not much. How will sensor vendors make money in the IoT marketplace? If you are a market leader and you ship billions of sensors, then volume is a revenue factor. Or mergers and acquisitions can broaden your portfolio in order to reach billions of shipped devices. But there is another interesting possibility: sensor fusion.

Sensor fusion means developing a platform that combines multiple sensors and software to create an intelligent system. For example, perhaps you notice that in the Industrial IoT market, many factories need an edge device that is hooked up to a machine that needs to monitor many environmental conditions. Each of these conditions requires a different sensor. And with software, new paths to revenue open up to you.

From hobbyists, to small and large companies, designers are taking their new IoT ideas to market by taking advantage of intelligent sensors. A new breed of designers has arrived and they are making hardware design trendy again.

This new breed of designers are reshaping design flows and they have new expectations. They typically work in small teams and require integrated design flows to quickly and easily produce a functioning device while spending as little money as possible. They require the capability to develop a proof-of-concept for system validation in order to capitalize on the opportunity of the IoT market. Design teams need to rapidly implement products using integrated design flows that allow them to quickly develop all the pieces needed for the sensor-driven IoT edge device, including: sensing elements, analog circuit interfaces, analog-to-digital logic, digital logic, and RF, all at a low cost compared to traditional IC and systems design.

Many design teams employ the integrated IC design and verification solution from Tanner to create intelligent sensor-based IoT systems. Why? Creating a sensor-based IoT edge device is challenging, due to the multiple design domains involved.

The design flow seamlessly integrates the AMS, RF, MEMS, and digital domains that allow you to design and verify your custom IC for IoT applications. This design flow accommodates single or multiple die techniques for successful IoT edge device design and verification.

Tanner has been working directly with this new breed of designers to develop a flow aptly suited to IoT edge device design and verification requirements. To learn more about how sensors are fundamental to new intelligent systems, check out the whitepaper here.