Many of us have heard the stats around the increasing pervasiveness of the internet of things (IoT). Gartner forecasts that the world will have 20.8 billion connected things in use by 2020, up from 6.4 billion this year. Last Wednesday and Thursday, the technologists who create these things gathered at the IDTechEx Show! to exchange ideas, learn about emerging solutions, and much more in areas including printed electronics, wearables, energy harvesting, 3D printing, energy storage, and electric vehicles.
The conference filled the halls at the Santa Clara Convention Center with more than 200 exhibitors from 23 countries. During his welcome address, IDTechEx CEO Raghu Das was clearly excited about the innovations in the underlying technologies that enable IoT devices and applications. IDTechEx analysts profile companies around the world, helping its clients understand how to break into emerging technologies markets and where the real opportunities are. Based on the knowledge that he and his colleagues have gained, Das outlined some of the key interrelated technologies covered at IDTechEx Show!
New form factors are bringing forth new design freedoms, with innovations such as stretchable inks, flex-to-rigid connections, and new sensor structures and materials. Das noted a 30X increase in the dollars invested in stretchable electronics companies between 2012 and 2015, with smart clothing for sports leading the way.
This area is about moving from the old approach of having components in a box that last 100 years to structures that are becoming functional components. 3D surface printing, surface electronics, in-mold electronics, and energy-harvesting skin are some examples. Rapid customization, material and component cost reduction, and the need to lighten weight and save space are driving the need for structural electronics.
As key components become flexible, this differentiates and creates new markets. Das forecasts that plastic and flexible displays will be a $30 billion market in 10 years, while sensors will grow to become a nearly $8 billion market in a decade.
This area involves technologies like IP-based sensor nodes for smart meters, home thermostats, and the like, along with passive RFID tags for retail, payments, and animal tracking.
Noted Das, “More and more things are becoming electrified and, now, where is that more pervasive than the automotive industry?” Aside from autonomous cars, Das sees a lot of growth in electrical industrial and commercial vehicles like buses and forklifts. “We see the end game being completely energy-independent vehicles. Is that the dream? It’s here today,” Das told the crowded ballroom. Today, for example, we have the Nuna energy-independent, solar-powered car developed by the Nuon Solar Team. This car, parked near the conference registration booth, is an example of the integration of structural electronics, energy harvesting, 3D printing, and electric vehicles.
Nuna solar-powered race cars have won the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia six times so far. The Nuon Solar Team, which built the cars, is comprised of students at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
As the conference showcased, the IoT is heralding many new opportunities for innovation. Energy harvesting is moving from MW to mW, converging to a multi-modal approach such as in e-textiles. In energy storage, the “gold rush” is on for orders of magnitude or more improvement. New materials like conductive inks, quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, and transparent conductors are coming to market. And in manufacturing, the next wave looks to be the manufacturing of hybrid devices such as thin flexible ICs onto thin flexible substrates.