It's surely agreed that the Internet of Things (IoT), as a concept and reality, is already proving to be a mine of untapped opportunities. Not only is the field wide open for unique devices, but there is more than ample room for innovation on existing products and services. Just looking at any of the new-tech campaigns on venues such as Kickstarter and you'll see IoT mentioned in almost every one of them, either in direct or indirect relation to the concept the creator(s) is hawking.
The next logical question would be which IoT-based markets might offer the greatest opportunities for innovation and revenue growth to sensor makers?
"There are two questions here: Innovation and Revenue", states Ryan Maley Director of Strategic Marketing at the ZigBee Alliance. "Regarding innovation, we believe there are many advanced healthcare, environmental and industrial processing related applications which will call for both increasing sensitivity of sensors and improved methods to analyze and interpret data. In terms of revenue, we believe the fastest growing market is the smart home. Consumer markets help drive volume for home monitoring and energy efficiency applications."
TE Sensor Solutions President Dave Coughlan also believes, "there may be a lot of opportunities in the medical field as well as personal monitoring and connecting people with people. Applications in this space include connecting and providing data to people with an aging parent who lives alone away from them."
"The medical device market will represent a significant growth opportunity for sensor manufacturers" agrees Tim Scott, Director of Business Development for Novati Technologies Inc. "Adding sensors that detect anomalies and report them directly to the patient's doctor or hospital will be one major growth area. Smart pills that better detect the patient's condition while transmitting that data to a smart phone is another area that will see significant growth." He adds "Building automation will also see significant growth in energy management by monitoring rooms for vacancy to control and improve convenience, comfort, energy efficiency, and security."
Also pointing to the medical arena, Scott A. Nelson, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Logic PD sees "wearable tech with a connection to chronic care and post diagnostic care as a high growth IoT market."
So far, the people in the field are concurring on medical/healthcare markets as possibly offering the most room for development. A number of factors, some quoted above, could account for that. Yes, there is always an aging portion of the population present that will require monitoring and care. Then, of course there's always a constant flow of persons who suffer injuries and general illnesses requiring short term care.
What is starting to become an even bigger market is preventative healthcare and, its closest relative, physical fitness. More people are taking responsibility for their own health and are using any number of electronic devices to help them monitor their present condition and progress. Heart-rate and blood-pressure monitors, blood-sugar level sensors, brainwave detectors, etc. are becoming more commonplace for generally healthy people. And all of these devices use sensors.
Though not infinite, there are many types of sensors available and, as integration techniques become more sophisticated, sensor fusion enables the integration of multiple sensor types in single packages. It would therefore appear that the IoT will offer a lot of space to improvise. Then we may ask, which sensor types are enjoying the highest demand at the moment for IoT applications?
"Any MEMs sensors are valuable today because they are small and offer low power operation" says Scott Nelson. "We see a high demand for chemical and bio-chemical sensors, but they are not yet functioning at a level that is compatible with applications requirements." From MEMS to chemical and medical, Mike Ballard Senior Manager at Microchip Technology Inc. "sees demand in several areas, such as smoke/CO2 detection, energy measurement, user interface, as well as medical sensing, such as pulse oximeters."
Along the same lines, Ryan Maley rounds out and reiterates, "Smart home applications call for motion, open/close, occupancy, temperature, humidity, and similar sensors. I believe we will also see a growth in accelerator, gyro, and vibration sensors for monitoring individuals for aging-in-place and elder care applications."
"It really depends on the specific industry as to the specific type of sensor" says Tim Scott. "Automobiles use hundreds of sensors and many different types. New vehicles are being equipped with radar-based sensors to allow for forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control. And camera sensors to help monitor forward collision warning, following distance indication, and lane departure warning. In homes growth will continue with motion and temperature/humidity sensors that are used throughout from games to thermostats to helping find lost items."
Possibly alluding to a sensor-fusion topology, AST's Greg Montrose offers, "Pressure and temperature sensors work somewhat hand-in-hand. In some cases, a single sensor is being used to monitor multiple functions. For example, a hydraulic filter uses differential pressure transducers to monitor its cleanliness while providing an additional output to ensure the pump is maintaining line pressure. As a result, one sensor offers the capability to gain more information from a single source while combining access to information via the IoT."
Simply put, which sensor types do you see being highest in demand at the moment for IoT applications? Acuity's President and CEO Jim Knutti puts forth, "It's really driven by each segment needs." And, for the moment, that sums things up most logically.
Creativity, imagination and the resultant innovations are great things to behold. But most might say the profits derived therefrom are even greater. On that note, what IoT applications will be the most profitable now and into the future, approximately the next five to six years?
"Biological and biochemical will be profitable" says Scott Nelson, "because they are not readily available and involve high-value applications including asset assurance and environmental safety."
Safety on several other planes is also a concern for Tim Scott. "Applications that help make people's lives safer and more secure will be the most widely adopted and profitable IoT applications." He adds, "Applications like making cars safer, protecting the warfighter and first responders, and making homes more secure from intruders, gas, fire, etc." Of course, healthcare figures into the safety concept. "Also medical applications of IoT will allow patients to avoid costly visits to the doctor and hospital by wearing sensors that are connected through a smart phone. People can be monitored while conducting their normal everyday lives."
Interestingly, and safety wise, Greg Montrose points some environmental concerns that are heating up in Europe, particularly in the UK. "The one industry I haven't mentioned revolves around water. Both access to quality water and maintenance of equipment create a demand that could be profitable in money, but also have an enormous value to the quality of life."
Although ZigBee's Ryan Maley claims, "it's difficult to predict and we cannot provide a strong answer", he counters and recounts, "Smart home applications will provide the most growth and drive volumes, but this may bring commoditization and price pressure."
On two points which IoT-based markets do you see as offering the greatest opportunities for sensor makers and what IoT applications will be the most profitable now and in the future Jim Knutti sees "the manufacturing, factory, and industrial sectors as areas that are significantly overlooked."
The View From Down Here
Based on the observations above from knowledgeable and seasoned folks in the field, it is safe to conclude that the IoT, at least while that catch phrase is still on the tip of everyone's tongue and press release, is an area of great opportunity for sensor makers, now and well into the future. In terms of opportunity, growth, innovation, and the necessary profitability, there is a definite focus on medical/healthcare, public and private safety, and overall quality-of-life markets.
With a nod to Mr. Knutti, yes manufacturing, factory, and industrial sectors are overlooked. I think taken for granted would be a somewhat better way of phrasing it. That's because it's understood that these sectors will be producing the products for those markets in the spotlight. And, in turn, the manufacturers, factories, and industrial conclaves will be using lots of sensors to do so.
In the last segment coming up, we'll approach the biggest challenges facing sensor makers in getting on board with IoT apps. We'll also pose a question that hopefully will elicit some thoughts, and answers, for the future of the IoT.
About the Author
Mat Dirjish is Executive Editor of Sensors magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].