Internet of Things: Making the component industry think inside the box
What will really happen when things, homes, offices and cities become smarter? We are likely to see radical alterations to the way we live: this could include a vacuum cleaner that starts cleaning on its own following receipt of a dust storm weather forecast… or a coffee maker that might order coffee itself after running out of a specific flavour. This may sound far-fetched, but the means to make these examples happen exist. A good way for the IoT idea to expand is to add “intelligence” to mainstream products in the form of microcontroller (MCU/MPU) and sensor; this will enable a sensing of the environment and the transmission of information for processing to the controller. We can foresee ‘things’ being fitted with an artificial brain linked to the Cloud, from where it would be controlled and multiple tasks assigned.
Another consequence is that the market will require far more smart chips than it currently does. In general, smart chips are divided into three categories: control, sensing and connectivity. Interestingly, each of these categories falls into a “Blue Ocean” (W. Chan Kim, 2005) type of definition with new demand created in what is an uncontested market space. Manufacturers that can support all three categories, like STMicroelectronics for instance, will lead the IoT era. These categories are expected to thrive in the future, with great volume and room to expand.
Figure 1: The Internet of Things will result in homes, offices and cities becoming gradually interconnected.
Category 1: Adding control components – these chips are the ‘brain’ of the operation.
Low end, microcontrollers can vary between 8bit processors designed to manage a microwave oven menu, to more complex chips such as 32bit or multi-core chips seen in TV converters (also known as set-top box). MCU that can support the Internet of Things vision taking shape at present. The extensive range of usage scenarios and devices within connected devices means that the gadgets will require more power than saving in performances or only inexpensive 32bit chips designed for more industrial application. Many of these companies have an edge because they are using ARM hardware-software solutions in a broad variety of end products.
Category 2: The addition of Sensors to our smart phones and tablets. The sensors we are referring to include microphones, acceleration, Gyro, humidity, pressure, light and temperature; in the past, many of these were complex and even large in size, but today they are convenient, inexpensive and small which helps explain why they can be found embedded in any existing product as well as in battery-based products. This technology is coming to the mass market, heralding a new way in which we communicate with our daily appliances.
Because of the addition of functionalities such as MCU, sensor and radio, the technologies must be miniaturized and merged into a single component. The INEMO-M1 is the first 9-axis motion sensing system-on-board (SoB) of the iNEMO module family. It integrates multiple MEMS sensors from ST and a powerful computational core: a 6-axis digital e-Compass, a 3-axis digital Gyroscope and an ARM®Cortex™-M3 32-bit MCU. This 9-DoF inertial system represents a fully integrated solution that can be used in a broad variety of applications such as robotics, personal navigation, gaming and wearable sensors for healthcare, sports and fitness.
A complete set of communication interfaces and motion-sensing capabilities in a very small size form factor (13 x 13 x 2 mm) and the possibility to embed ST’s sensor fusion software make the INEMO-M1 system-on-board a flexible solution for high-performance, effortless orientation estimation and motion-tracking applications.
Category 3: Perhaps the clearest category of all involves adding Connectivity. It can be easily understood that if we want to connect to the Internet, there must be a certain kind of radio communications in all the end units. It can be Wi-Fi, NFC, RFID, Bluetooth, Z-wave, ZigBee or even standard cellular 3G or 4G (or all the above) and additional types of communications that will be developed in the near-distant future for a specific need with development of the Internet of Things (IOT), e.g. BLE – Bluetooth Low Energy. STMicroelectronics has developed BlueNRG, single component incorporating Cortex-M0 and Bluetooth specification v4.0.
These radio technologies will be embedded in additional products with which we are all familiar. A report on the IoT from the OECD estimates that a four-member household which today uses on average 10 Internet-connected devices will increase usage to 25 by 2017 and to 50 by 2022.
Figure 2: Manufacturers that can support all three categories (control, sensing and connectivity), like STMicroelectronics for instance, will lead the IoT era.
A rapid survey shows a wealth of available home Wi-Fi devices and sensors that have embedded radio appliances.
The hardware industry has been widely eulogized, with the claim that everything is on the shelf. We often hear that there is no need to manufacture hardware, but only to write software. However the Internet of Things concept is changing the rules of the game and leads the industry to developments and the manufacturing of components that did not exist previously.
The high-tech industry is best described as cyclical and will always be affected by market fluctuations, but the IoT vision is likely to drive the industry forward in the coming years.
Figure 3: The INEMO-M1 system-on-board comprises a complete set of communication interfaces and motion-sensing capabilities in a 13 x 13 x 2 mm form factor.
The author, Milan Yudkovich holds the position of FAE at Arrow Israel — www.arroweurope.com.