Design Con 2015

Photos from the frontier: The Internet of Things

April 11, 2012

rick.merritt-April 11, 2012

Networked sensors are finding their way into an increasingly broad set of applications marketers have dubbed The Internet of Things. The following photo gallery provides a few glimpses of this diverse frontier in electronics and distributed computing.

At its core, the Internet of Things is all about the mote, the tiny module that combines some sort of sensor and communications, and perhaps a bit of memory and computing capability. One example (below) is a mote designed by IBM using the network technology of startup Dust Networks, recently acquired by Linear Technology.



The devices are appearing where once no semiconductors were found, in everything from hydraulic pumps to wristwatches, board games and bandages. Indeed the apps frontier is almost comically diverse.

In a keynote at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T, talked about wireless sensor networks measuring both the moisture content of farm fields to automate irrigation systems and the fullness of dumpsters to calculate the most efficient routes for garbage trucks.

“If you think about our future think trash, think dirt—there’s money there,” he quipped.

Chip makers pursuing these apps include nearly every microcontroller maker, broad analog companies such as Maxim and Texas Instruments and niche players such as Ember Corp. (whose development kit is shown below). A host of mainly wireless networking options are making claims to this territory from Bluetooth to Zigbee.

One hot debate is whether today’s Internet protocols are just fine for this work or specialty energy-saving techniques are needed. Both are in use or in development now.

In any case, all sides agree the end goal is to deliver the smallest possible motes with as much smarts as possible with what little energy can be harvested or stored in tiny batteries that typically must last for years.

We welcome you to this tour of a few frontier towns in the Internet of Things. We’d love to hear about what new technologies or applications you may be pioneering at other points on this horizon. Much of the future of electronics is being written in this new Wild West.

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