Solving the IoT sensor design challenges. But can all the data be communicated?

12-10-2017 | By Paul Whytock

Improved sensor technology is a key element driving forward the creation of IoT systems and devices but the monumental amounts of data they will create has to be communicated and this raises some serious worries about whether the Internet in its current form will cope.

On the sensor side of things a technology collaboration aimed at solving what the participating partners see as IoT sensor design challenges has been formed by chip company Analog Devices (ADI) and nanotech and digital technologies research organization Imec.

According to the two organizations continued development of IoT related products and devices is hampered because the underlying sensors, and the chips upon which they are built, are often too big, too expensive and not sufficiently accurate. The joint research initiatives that have already been started in the framework of the strategic collaboration will focus on what it describes as localization sensor technology.

Figures from industry analysts certainly make it clear just how massive the IoT market will be for sensor components. A report from analysts Business Insider goes as far to say it will become the largest global market for devices and that by 2019 it will be over twice the market size of the smart phone, automotive electronics and tablet sectors. And according to Garner Incorporated the worldwide number of connected IoT devices and systems will reach 20.4 billion by 2020.

The new sensor technology collaboration already has two design projects in progress. The first is a low-power sensor for applications in smart buildings and intelligent industrial locations and the second will focus on the analysis of liquids including water, blood and urine. Exact design information about what ultimately will be single chip multi-electrode sensors is understandably not available yet but design criterion will involve the application of ultra-low power circuits and smart algorithms.

There is no doubt that improved sensor technology is a fundamentally important design challenge if the full potential of IoT connectivity is to be achieved.

However, having collected colossal amounts of IoT sensor created data it has to be communicated and here lies one of the major technology hurdles that could seriously hindered IoT progress.

Many industry pundits argue that unless we see IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) implemented, the Internet as it stands with its existing IPv4 structure will be incapable of handling the constant deluge of IoT data. The point is that IPv6 has a much larger address space. The length of an IPv6 address is 128 bits, compared with 32 bits in IPv4 and this would provide the Internet with far greater data communication capacity.

However communications company Cisco see things differently. That company believes 50 billion devices can be linked directly to the Internet by 2020, even though adoption of IPv6 remains sluggish.

Only time will tell.