SAN JOSE, Calif. — More than 5,000 people registered for this year’s Sensor Expo, where more than 250 companies showed their wares. The numbers are a reasonable indicator that there’s a diverse and growing set of sensors and people interested in them in these early days of the Internet of Things.
I took just two hours out of a busy week to walk the show floor and came away with insights on a handful of the latest products from a mix of big chip vendors and startups.
Along the way, I met Albert Pisano, dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California at San Diego. Pisano used to lead a sensor and actuator lab at Berkeley and, in his new role, nourishes a similar initiative focused on wearables.
“We’re not working on things like the Fitbit, a box you strap to yourself,” he said. “We’re interested in bio-compatible devices that work by chemical reactions directly on your skin.”
Pisano described three key use cases that researchers are pursuing: small, long-lasting combination sensors for premature babies, continuous bio-sensors for the aged, and sensors that pharma companies would place on people in their clinical trials.
Among the tech challenges, they must get accuracy up and cost, size, and power down. One interesting technique in the labs uses lactate in human sweat as a power source, potentially strong enough to drive an ultra-low-power radio. It’s still early days for the technique, which, among other things, faces a big-data challenge in figuring out how to calibrate it for the wide differences in individual chemistry.
Size and cost are also major factors in another sensor market said to be one of the hottest sectors in IoT — asset tracking. Modules have dropped from $25 to $15 on average thanks to chip integration and lower-power networks such as LTE CatM and LoRa. The bad news is that carriers have yet to widely deploy stable CatM networks, and LoRa is a do-it-yourself approach still working on roaming, said one engineer showing modules on the show floor.
In other trends, it was clear that attendees aren’t the only buyers at the event. Major exhibitors such as ADI, Rohm, and TDK have been filling out their product portfolios, acquiring smaller sensor vendors over the past few years.