IoT and wearables: Design and technology help rapidly grow market

May 19, 2014

IoT and wearables: Design and technology help rapidly grow market

The Internet of Things (IoT) is widely accepted as the next big thing. In many ways, the IoT is the hardware counterpart to the software "app" market...

The Internet of Things (IoT) is widely accepted as the next big thing. In many ways, the IoT is the hardware counterpart to the software “app” market and is unleashing a new wave of creativity around the globe. Both entrepreneurs and companies can leverage the existing Internet infrastructure to build a business that will accelerate trends like the “humanization” of technology, increasing embedded and secure intelligence, and smarter energy use to conceive new applications and markets.

Wearable technology has been at the forefront of the IoT explosion. While people are rushing to cash in and design products for today’s consumer, many issues need to be considered when developing products for the wearables sector including power, form factor and secure wireless connectivity. And, of course, it all needs be manufacturable and affordable. Needless to say, designing for the wearables space isn’t easy.

Wearable design considerations
There’s so much information out there that people can’t detect by themselves. The information around you every day – whether it’s health, fitness, learning or just playing – can help make your life better. And that’s where the need for sensors comes in.

Sensors and wearables can allow for continuous physiological monitoring of any person and their surroundings. And with the size of sensors getting smaller and smaller, wearables are now finally possible.

So now that it’s possible, what are the major considerations for the wearables market?

Power is always a major consideration for any portable device. Consumers require devices that operate as long as they’ll be away from a recharging source of power, and ideally even longer. And as difficult as it may be, reducing features to increase battery life will likely improve the overall customer experience. So selecting power-efficient components is important early on in the design process. And it will help to ensure that the final product won’t get hot – a very important consideration on anything that will be worn by people.

Aesthetics are also important in wearables. The final design needs to match with the usage and placement scenarios and will need to consider factors such as heat, moisture protection, and comfort.

Finally, as the world becomes even more connected, the security of communications between products is also an important consideration; privacy of the data has to be protected. The IoT is a wonderful platform for collaboration, but since it is open by nature, it requires the implementation of proper authentication mechanisms and privacy-protection techniques in conjunction with a secure software foundation that eliminates security holes and can isolate accidental or malicious failures and data leaks.

These are the most significant design obstacles for consideration before bringing a product to this rapidly growing market.

Technology available now
One reason for the interest and rapid growth of the wearables market is that decreasing component costs have allowed existing technologies to be effectively applied to create useful products. In fact, there are an almost infinite number of combinations of four key semiconductor technologies that are already available at reasonable cost in volume.

The four technologies enabling most wearable applications are:

  1. Sensors, which measure what’s happening around us, from how fast we’re moving and in which direction, to ambient air pressure, temperature, and relative humidity.
  2. Powerful microcontrollers provide the application’s “brain” while occupying just a few millimeters of board space.
  3. Power management and control technologies extend battery life via energy harvesting.
  4. Wireless Communication technologies allow objects to communicate with each other

The semiconductor players who will be most successful in wearables will be those that have a complete portfolio of sense, power, connectivity and embedded-processing components and offer leading-edge expertise in digital security.

The IoT as a whole offers enormous opportunity for development but the wearables market specifically will really grow on you!

Luca DiFalco, STMicroelectronics