Is the Internet of things (IoT) the next big thing? Clearly, it's on the radar screen for many players in the electronic components industry. And it should be based on some of the projected market size numbers from market research providers. Gartner, for example, identifies IoT as one of the top 10 tech trends for 2014, and pegs the market size at 26 billion units installed in 2020, up from 0.9 billion in 2009. Frost & Sullivan also believes that there will be an "explosion of IoT activity" over the next few years driven by low-cost sensors.
Clearly, electronic component manufacturers and distributors are preparing for the IoT ramp up around wireless connectivity and more machine-to-machine communications that is expected over the next several years. Some suppliers are lining up strategic partnerships, while others are re-organizing to focus on the connected world.
Avnet Electronics Marketing Americas sees IoT as a top tech trend in 2014 and as an opportunity in key technologies that make these connected devices. These include sensors, wireless solutions, and processors.
“In 2014 we’ll see more consumer technology infiltrate the markets we serve, including industrial, automotive, medical, military and defense,” said Rondekka Moore, vice president, demand creation, Avnet Electronics Marketing Americas, in a statement “We’ll see growth in demand for systems that will feature various kinds of sensors and connectivity to the internet. Wearable and touchscreen technology will also bring opportunities for Avnet and our customers.”
Avnet said it offers engineers and purchasers design chain and supply chain services to manage the complexity of wireless connectivity product development, which will also help speed their time to market.
“Avnet is driven by innovation, and that’s why we’ve been in business for more than 90 years. As our customers build next-generation designs, we can help them every step of the way,” said Ed Smith, president, Avnet Electronics Marketing Americas, in a statement. “Whether a customer is focused on LEDs, the medical or automotive markets, visionary machines, or other major industry trends, we can deliver the technical offerings and the most efficient and adaptable global supply chain structure to serve their needs.”
Electronic component manufacturers like Atmel, Murata, and Bosch are already aligned strategically in the marketplace to leverage growing opportunities in the connected space. As an example, Atmel recently announced that it is expanding its sensor hub solutions by partnering with the industry’s leading sensor and sensor fusion software manufacturers. Murata Americas and Ayla Networks announced a partnership whereby Murata will produce and market intelligent Wi-Fi modules containing the Ayla Embedded Agent software, which will be available as a design kit.
On the other hand, sensor manufacturer Bosch has set up a new company, Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH to focus on IoT and services. The new company will supply "electronic products and software expertise designed to make devices and objects intelligent and web-enabled across a broad range of applications." Initial focus areas will be sensor-based applications for “smart homes,” as well as traffic, transportation, and logistics applications.
“From vehicles and smart phones to containers and machines – by 2015 more than six billion things will be connected to the internet. Entirely new services will emerge that will transform people’s everyday lives and open up huge new business opportunities. These services will rely on the smart networking of devices within wider systems,” said Dr. Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH, in a statement. “Setting up Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions is a key strategic step in our plans to expand our portfolio for the internet of things and services.”
The new company is headquartered in Reutlingen with sites in Coimbatore, India, and Suzhou, China. It specializes in the development of networked sensors and actuators. These products include tiny micromechanical (MEMS) sensors that are used to measure acceleration, air pressure, the earth’s magnetic field, yaw rate, noise, or temperature.
These sensors can be intelligently programmed using software algorithms and equipped with microcontrollers, miniature batteries, and tiny radio chips that enable them to process measurement data and send it over the internet to other devices, said Bosch. The company produces more than one billion MEMS sensors a year for automotive and consumer electronics markets.
“The introduction of MEMS sensors in automotive electronics in the 1980s and 1990s marked the first wave of growth. The second major wave has been their widespread incorporation in smart phones, tablets, and games consoles since the beginning of the 21st century – and the internet of things and services now heralds the third wave. We’re convinced that it will far surpass the first two waves,” Denner further stated. “Sensors, signal processing, batteries, and transmitters have become so small, energy efficient, and inexpensive – even as all-in-one units – that they can be used in their billions. And at the same time radio networks are now available almost everywhere.”
A few application examples include “smart plugs” for agricultural applications that can be used to switch a nursery’s irrigation system on and off depending on the soil’s moisture content, and sensors integrated in packages and consignments of goods that can be used to monitor their transportation, said Bosch. The data shows if the packages have been handled roughly, dropped, or exposed to weather, as well as provide tracking data.
It will be interesting to watch over the next year how electronic component manufacturers and distributors plan to support customers in the development of their networked devices across a broad range of applications.