MEMS Industry Group: IoT gets real

April 08, 2015

MEMS Industry Group: IoT gets real

I just Googled "IoT" and 31.7 million search results popped up in a third of a second. With such staggering search results, it is no surprise that the...

I just Googled “IoT” and 31.7 million search results popped up in a third of a second. With such staggering search results, it is no surprise that the term “IoT” brings a share of skepticism whenever it is mentioned. Aside from the sheer volume of people talking and writing about IoT is the fact that it’s such a broad term, encompassing consumer, automotive, health and medical, industrial, and other markets – hence the origin of the term – it’s about EVERYTHING. But is it really?

In a nod to the essential role of MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) and sensors in IoT, Matt Crowley, CEO of Vesper, said that MEMS and sensors play the role of “information transduction in our technology infrastructure by taking information from the real world and transducing it into digital information without any human intervention.” And that phrase is exactly why MEMS and sensors are the bedrock of IoT.

With MEMS and sensors playing such a foundational role in IoT, I turned to a few members of my organization, MEMS Industry Group (MIG) to help me sift through the hype. I wanted to get a better sense of today’s real-world applications that they consider most successful, as well as the applications of tomorrow they believe are most promising.

When I asked about the current commercial success of IoT applications, Becky Oh, President and CEO of PNI Sensor and Vesper’s Crowley both agreed that wearables are among the big IoT winners. Oh mentioned that Misfit, the activity tracker, is now working with Nest, a smart home device recently purchased by Google, which both Crowley and Tim Saxe, CTO of QuickLogic, also cited by name. Saxe reminded me that IoT is already established in industrial applications, with OnStar being one of the most recognizable names in that category.

IoT in autonomous vehicles

According to David Allan, President of Virtuix, one of the most promising IoT applications of the near future is an industrial application that Google is using in its autonomous vehicles. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), said Allan, is similar to radar, “except that the sensor sends out and receives pulses of light, with MEMS micro-mirrors providing instantaneous control of the beam direction.

“Google’s autonomous car uses several sensing technologies, but its most important ‘eye’ is a Cyclopean LiDAR unit mounted on the roof.” Allan added that the unit, manufactured by Velodyne, “uses sixty-four laser beams and an equal number of detectors, all mounted in a housing that rotates ten times a second. It generates about 1.3 million data points per second, assembling the stream of data into a real-time 3D picture that extends 100 m in all directions.” This is a perfect illustration of how the data generated by MEMS and sensors is creating the information-transduction highway that Crowley described.

It’s all about the data

When asked about the most promising future IoT applications, QuickLogic’s Saxe and PNI’s Oh both mentioned applications that heavily process data. Saxe identified Tile (with the slogan “If you’d miss it, Tile it”) as an application with great potential; you basically attach Tile to anything you want to track (your car keys, wallet, child…). According to Saxe, with an application like Tile “you could use an accelerometer to detect that your handbag is walking while you are not, or a magnetometer to detect that you stepped out of a car but your laptop did not. And it would be nice if the tire pressure system in your car would call your phone if the tire goes flat while the car is parked at work.” So thanks to MEMS and sensors, it’s all about the context and the content of the data.

Oh highlighted the importance of measurable ROI in emerging IoT applications. “IoT devices can serve as inputs to a company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system,” she said. “These might include a wearable device that provides productivity and safety to factory workers.”

According to Oh, “the benefits of IoT will be from the information that we are able to deduce from all the data that is collected from IoT devices.” She also sees significant technological advancements applied to the medical field, “where doctors would have access to the results of all the data that has been collected from not just other medical records, but data from the environment, food and lifestyle choices. This would revolutionize the way doctors diagnose a patient.” It’s very much in line with the world described in Dr. Eric Topol’s revolutionary book The Creative Destruction of Medicine – a book I highly recommend you read if you haven’t already.

Crowley believes that “the IoT market will be highly fragmented as people figure out the killer apps and best products.” Based on some of the diverse applications mentioned by the MIG members I interviewed, I have to agree. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how many MIG members are involved in IoT, have already made a measurable impact, and are providing myriad IoT solutions in every market. Yes, IoT is a big pond, but there’s plenty of opportunity for small and big fish alike – now and in the very near future.

Karen Lightman is Executive Director of the MEMS Industry Group (MIG).

MEMS Industry Group (MIG)





Karen Lightman, MEMS Industry Group (MIG)