Although it wasn't exactly part of the microelectronics industry's roadmap, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been in development over the past 20 years through continuous advances in microelectronics, nanotechnologies, sensors, and communication technologies.
Even so, the IoT presents structural challenges that the industry is familiar with on a comparatively small scale. For example, infrastructure and component scalability, networking of diverse clients and operating systems, integrating and repartitioning data from multiple sources, and efficient power supplies that include energy harvesting and energy scavenging.
The projected scale of tens of billions of connected devices will demand capabilities that surpass even our collective imaginations of just 10 years ago. To achieve projections of some 50 billion connected objects by 2020, enabling technologies will have to be integrated in very small form factors and in a tremendous variety of objects. Mutualizing functions in a single piece of silicon will help make those products cheaper and smaller, and integrating components on flexible substrates will help optimize electronics in new kinds of objects such as wearable activity trackers, ingestible temperature sensors, and in-body drug-delivery solutions.
Leti's latest power-efficient FD-SOI technologies developed with STMicroelectronics and IBM will enable new types of components for data centers or smart objects. Beyond semiconductor core processes, Leti has helped launch several companies whose technologies are well suited for IoT applications; for example, APIX's nanosensor-based gas chromatography.
ULIS is using Leti imaging technologies in IR sensors that will enable monitoring and security systems, while its health and biometric sensors will help the quantified-self market take advantage of the IoT. In addition, Leti's RF design, antenna expertise and RF-qualification capabilities are powering BeSpoon's extremely precise localization technology, and are helping to connect devices in SIGFOX's rapidly growing, low-cost and low-power cellular networks that are dedicated to the IoT.
Technologies for ultralow-power electronics and RF communication, as well as innovative energy-harvesting and energy-scavenging solutions, will enable autonomous and powerful communicating objects. Sensors will expand the detection capabilities of these objects with MEMS and NEMS technologies, imaging and monitoring devices, and chemical and biometric capabilities. There also are exciting opportunities for new integrative and communication technologies that will enable device size reduction and pervasiveness using interposers, flexible substrates, printed electronics, miniaturized antennas and low-power, short- or long-range communication systems. This area also includes interoperability and data-fusion solutions for the integration of these objects with Big Data and Open Data computing.
It's likely that near-term benefits will be most noticeable in advanced manufacturing, e-health, smart cities and the surveillance and security markets. While it is impossible to predict the IoT's longer-term impact, this revolution will require the crystallization of a large set of technology breakthroughs.
The IoT democratizes the way users interact with information, in real time, and in a contextual way. This efficient integration of information in existing processes, from professional and industrial uses to common, everyday tasks, will make our daily lives smarter, while supporting security, safety, sustainability, effective health care, environmental protection and other critical societal goals. Beyond the technological challenges, we also will require new business models that will drive and support innovative IoT products and services, and we – the industry, regulators and society – will need both robust processes and enforceable policies to ensure privacy will be protected.
About the Author
Laurent Malier is CEO of CEA-Leti, the French micro- and nanotechnologies research institute. He will give the opening address on June 25th at Leti Days Grenoble, June 25-26, which is focusing on "The Internet of Things: from sensors to zero power."