Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Internet of Things April 2018 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Guy Garrud

Developing Energy-Efficient Stand-Alone Devices

Why is this topic significant?

Many current and potential IoT applications rely on networks of small connected devices. Improving energy efficiency is a key enabler for creating more and smaller stand-alone IoT devices.

Description

In December 2017, Amazon.com bought security-camera manufacturer Blink for $90 million. Blink's security cameras use off-the-shelf, AA-size, lithium batteries and boast a battery life of up to two years. In February 2018, a Reuters report said that, according to "people familiar with the matter," Amazon's rationale for the acquisition was to explore using Blink's energy-efficient chip technology in some of the online retailer's smart-home products.

Researchers at Stanford University's Arbabian Lab presented a paper at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in February 2018 detailing their work on an ultrasonic wake-up device. The device incorporates an ultrasonic receiver and monitors its environment for a wake-up signal. When the device receives the signal, it powers on a larger connected electronic device. By using an ultrasound receiver rather than a radio receiver (as seen in other wake-up devices), the researchers can bypass a fundamental trade-off between minimizing size and maximizing antenna sensitivity that is inherent to radio receivers.

Also at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference were researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who have developed a processor chip dedicated to executing public-key encryptions. By creating a specialist chip, the MIT researchers were able to encrypt information using four-hundredth (0.25% of) the power of a conventional processor, using one-tenth as much memory, and completing the process 500 times faster.

Implications

Amazon's purchase of Blink is less about cameras and more about Amazon's wider smart-home endeavors. Current-generation Amazon devices require a wired power supply, which limits where users can install devices, in comparison with installation of a site-anywhere battery-powered device.

Ease of installation and energy efficiency will likely be important for many industrial users, who may require sensors and actuators in locations where providing wired power supplies is impractical—in particular, in retrofitting older equipment to enable the equipment to connect with other devices and information networks.

The Stanford researchers emphasized the importance of minimizing power consumption. For device manufacturers, reducing the size of wake-up receivers is also important, because the physical size of devices is an important consideration in terms of materials costs and also because smaller devices can serve a greater range of applications.

Impacts/Disruptions

Consumer and regulatory demand for devices that are more energy efficient means that improving energy efficiency is an important goal for many electronic-device developers, irrespective of the end applications. Advances in energy-efficient technologies that target Internet of Things applications will likely also find use in more conventional devices such as televisions and white goods.

Encryption will likely play an important role in securing the Internet of Things, and specialist low-power encryption chips such as the one developed by the MIT researchers could become an important market for chip manufacturers.

Synergistic with improvements in energy efficiency are improvements in the capacity and longevity of batteries. In particular, the IoT presents a different paradigm for battery developers, with IoT devices having a significant need for long-term stability rather than just for the high-energy-density demands of portable devices and electric vehicles.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

IoT-device manufacturing, network-infrastructure development, industrial IoT

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Automating Air-Traffic Control for UAVs

Why is this topic significant?

The number of unmanned aerial vehicles in commercial use is likely to increase dramatically during the coming decade, raising substantial challenges in ensuring safety and efficiency. IoT technology could serve as an enabler for automating low-altitude air traffic.

Description

In March 2018, the Swiss air-traffic-control organization Skyguide announced that it would be partnering with California company AirMap to develop a national drone air-traffic-management (ATM) system beginning in June 2018.

AirMap is a software platform that can interact with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) via an internet-application interface. Drone manufacturers such as DJI already use similar interfaces to interact with their products. AirMap's platform will incorporate a registry of drones and their owners. More important, the AirMap system will also enable data sharing and digital communication via the internet to enable drone users to request and gain authorization quickly to fly a UAV in a specific area. Certain no-fly zones are geofenced, which means that when the UAV's satellite navigation system detects that it's in a geofenced area, the AirMap system will alert the user through text messages or graphic cues on the user's control device. Ben Marcus, AirMap's chairman, noted that in the United States, under existing systems, users can have to wait 90 days for authorization to fly low-altitude drones in controlled airspace.

Skyguide's partnership with AirMap is part of the larger U-Space European initiative, which seeks to establish air-traffic-management systems to enable safe operation of large numbers of UAVs. The SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) Joint Undertaking released a blueprint for U-Space in June 2017.

Implications

Consumer drones have caused injury through malfunction or poor use, criminals have used UAVs for smuggling contraband into prisons, and numerous near misses with commercial passenger aircraft have occurred. Companies such as Amazon.com are seeking to commercialize drone deliveries, and new commercial UAVs—along with growing hobbyist demand—will likely result in a growing number of UAVs' taking to the air in the coming decade. A dramatic increase in the number of UAVs presents a pressing need for effective systems to enable them to operate safely alongside one another.

National and international authorities designed current-generation air-traffic control to handle large commercial aircraft and occasional hobbyists. The European Commission's U-Space initiative doesn't set out a single definitive approach to achieving meaningful ATM for UAVs, and conceivably, individual European states may take different approaches.

Impacts/Disruptions

Switzerland is effectively volunteering as a test bed for a new ATM system. If the system is successful, it will likely give AirMap a substantial commercial advantage in offering its services to other countries, both inside and outside the European Union, that are seeking ways to incorporate large numbers of UAVs safely into their airspace.

Enabling local and national governments to change airspace boundaries dynamically and automatically—for example, in response to natural disasters or other emergencies—could be an important tool for a range of situations. Conceivably, having user UAVs contactable via the internet could also enable advanced applications such as governments' commandeering a user's drone for emergency-response purposes.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Software development, satellite-navigation services, UAV manufacturing, autonomous delivery services

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: