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Insight into industrial sensing and control technology from North America sensors conference

By Chris Roberts - Last updated: Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I’m just back from Sensors Expo in Chicago, the largest dedicated sensors conference in North America.  Nathan Wrench head of our Industrial Campaign, and I went along to see what we could learn about the latest industrial sensing and control technology, and to work out if we should be presenting there next year.

Being more of a design authority person, I decided to visit some of the technical talks.  In the past some of our best projects have involved taking low power, low cost sensors and adding some signal processing magic (e.g. DropTag, Instant Wild, Trace) and I was hoping to find some new building blocks to make exciting products from.  There was a lot on Energy Harvesting – unfortunately most of the products seem to be either larger, more expensive, or provide less energy than an equivalent battery, or in some cases all three!  Midé’s Piezo-electric products were a notable exception, and I liked their talk on making energy harvesting cost effective.

Another track in the conference was “The Internet of Things”.  The things on show here were of variable quality! I saw lots of “solutions looking for problems” – boards with a bunch of sensors, wireless comms and no real purpose in mind.  However, there was some good stuff coalescing around a vision of an IoT device consisting of:

  1. A processor
  2. A battery
  3. Some sensors
  4. A means of communication, usually wireless
  5. All wrapped up with security

This all ties in with a lot of the connected products we’ve been working on for some time – like DropTag and Smart Metering. It’s good to see security central to the discussion for once! I’m quite excited by the idea of combining the IoT with our push into Precision Agriculture – the cab of a modern tractor already looks like an IT department with all the screens and sensors, and if we can get all that kit behaving more autonomously, letting the driver get on with their job until some action needs to be taken, then we’ll be making something really useful.  The key to getting IoT accepted will be when the devices exist to serve the human, rather than having the human rush round servicing the devices. There’s a real feeling of being on the edge of something with IoT, and I think that, a bit like “Web 2.0”, it’ll only really make a difference when it stops being the latest buzzword, and just becomes part of the background technology that nobody notices but everyone uses.

So will we be speaking next year?  On one hand, I don’t think we met quite enough potential clients to make it worthwhile.  On the other, next year it is in Long Beach, California…


AuthorChris Roberts

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