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The Internet of Things (IoT) offers Granular Monitoring and Control

Gartner Research analyst Stephan Ohr looks at the outrageous proliferation of monitoring and control devices enabled by the IoT technology.

By Stephan Ohr, Research Director, IoT and Power Semiconductors, Gartner Inc.

Steve_OhrIf it does nothing else, the Internet of Things (IoT) will enable new granularity to the devices and processes used for environmental monitoring and control. We can debate whether the new semiconductor revenues associated with IoT ($44.8 billion in 2020) are incremental revenues we might have anticipated with normal expansion of the industrial infrastructure. We can debate which microcontrollers makes better wireless sensor nodes, or whether WiFi, Zigbee, or low energy Bluetooth provides the best communications channels. But what we cannot deny is the outrageous proliferation of monitoring and control devices IoT will enable.

Everything from factory robots to autonomous vehicles to office bathroom soap dispensers can be monitored on the Internet of Things. The use of remote sensor nodes with signal-conditioning front ends, microcontrollers and lookup tables, and integrated communications devices is nothing new for data acquisition and control systems. The use of multiple controllers for automotive subsystem monitoring is similarly not surprising, though the unit volume of sensor nodes deployed in new-generation automobiles will be impressive to many. But the growing use of sensor nodes for consumer applications ─ home thermostats, garage door openers and baby monitors ─ has taken many electronics market observers by surprise, giving rise to speculation that as much of 50% of the “Things” populating the IoT in 2020 have not been invented yet.

Consumer applications drive the IoT

Consumer applications, particularly Home Automation, Home Energy Management, Home Security ─ as well as IoT-enabled entertainment devices ─ will account for the largest proportion of IoT semiconductors (38%) by 2020. These include sensors, microcontrollers and data communications transceivers. (See figure 1, below.)

Figure 1. IoT-enabled semiconductors will account for $44.8 billion in 2020 revenues. Source: Gartner (October 2014)

Figure 1. IoT-enabled semiconductors will account for $44.8 billion in 2020 revenues. Source: Gartner (October 2014)

Unlike industrial controls, where IoT sensor nodes supplement existing monitors for industrial data acquisition and control, sensors provided to monitor home lighting, heating and energy consumption by major appliances are effectively filling a vacuum. Appliances like The Nest, an electronic thermostat with the ability to track user adjustments over time, are among the best “use cases” for the home automation market.

IoT sensor nodes used in the transportation sector, particularly automotive, account for 29% of IoT semiconductor revenues (sensors, microcontrollers and communications devices) in 2020. The automotive sector will offer the fastest revenue growth (54% CAGR 2014-2020) for IoT semiconductors. The biggest drivers for automotive sensor nodes include safety systems, like advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), and chassis stability. The former will utilize CMOS imagers to provide drivers visual information about what surrounds their cars, while the latter will utilize inertial sensors to gage chassis stability as the car rounds a bend at high speeds. These two sensor types, in fact, will account for more than 50% of the automotive sensors deployed for IoT usage in 2020.


Sensors for Healthcare

The healthcare sector is expected to account for $3.8 billion in IoT semiconductor revenues in 2020 (9% of the total), though the use cases are not entirely clear at this moment.

The use of wearable sensors and gateways has not only given amateur athletes and fitness buffs new data to inform their conditioning, but also holds out the promise for electronic health records (EHRs) and patient healthcare records with great analytical capabilities. Data accumulated from many different kinds of patients could enable better diagnoses for chronic conditions and more-informed treatment regimens. Invest money now on monitoring healthy people, so the thinking goes, to reduce the cost treating sick ones later on.

Despite the ostensible popularity of wearable sensors nodes for health and fit monitoring, it does not represent a large market. Amateur athletes and fitness buffs using biometric devices ─ heart rate and blood pressure monitors ─ to gage their fitness level actually represent a relatively small population. Moreover, the interest of these largely middle class people in monitoring the physical conditioning revealed by a smartwatch (or wristband with an iPhone host) has been shown to waiver over time. Thus, the market will appear to grow one year and to taper the next.

More critical for market growth will be the acceptance of biomedical monitoring nodes for hospital and remote patient monitoring. Most of the devices currently using the Apple iPhone as a platform for heart rate or blood pressure monitoring are not currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and doctors using these for diagnostic purposes could shoulder additional liability. Insurance companies moreover have been hesitant to pay for these monitors though interest in the money-saving possibilities continues to increase. Patients themselves may have trepidations regarding the privacy of their medical data. For these reasons, Gartner puts “mobile patient monitoring” on a 5-to-10 year acceptance cycle, though the technology for implementing this ─ IoT addressing ─ readily exists today.

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