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Powering the IoT Boom

Posted on 04/14/2016 at 12:00 AM by Seth Hansen

Powering the IoT Boom Blog Post Title Graphic


Cities will “run themselves”, assets are tracked seamlessly and efficiency skyrockets. Sounding like something out of a science fiction novel only a short while ago, this level of connectedness and integration of systems is the new reality. The lion share of this automation is due to the dramatic rise in Internet of Things (IoT) research and development. While there seems to be as many definitions as people espousing them, IoT is not a new concept.


Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) defines IoT as, “the point in time when more things or objects were connected to the Internet than people” (Evans 2). Evans notes that this was realized between 2008 and 2009 due in large part to Apple’s iPhone which was released in 2007 starting the “smartphone era” (Evans 3). Co-authors, Dr. Ovidiu Vermesan and Dr. Peter Friess comment on the end result of IoT as, “A world where the real, digital and the virtual are converging to create smart environments that make energy, transport, cities and many other areas more intelligent” (Dr. Friess and Vermesan 22, 23).


This world where everything is connected will almost be ensured by 2015. In Evans’ analysis he notes, “Cisco IBSG predicts there will be 25 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2015 and 50 billion by 2020” (Evans 3). IoT is not science fiction, it’s not even brand new, but it is growing at an incredible pace.


With this growth in mind, companies are beginning to transition strategically to take advantage of this phenomena. General Electric (GE) plans to move from Fairfield, Connecticut to Massachusetts. Chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Immelt speaks to the advantages of moving, “We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations” (Olavsrud, CIO). This ecosystem includes prestigious universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tech titan, Nokia, is investing 350 million dollars in IoT. Their CEO, Rajeev Suri, notes, “We are launching a $350 million IoT investment fund through Nokia Growth Partners. Our goal is to help accelerate the broad IoT ecosystem, increase the demand for connectivity and generate returns from investments in compelling opportunities” (Lomas, Tech Crunch). These investments are no small decision. GE and Nokia are betting that IoT, and its growth, has no end in sight.   


With this rapid advance in IoT and companies ravenously pursuing potential profits one must remember the key behind the IoT movement, sensors and transmitters. In order to create smarter homes, cities and societies automation is crucial. Without automation, routine upkeep is necessary and efficiency affected. Sensors and transmitters were once powered by batteries that needed changing. Now, renewable energy has taken up the mantle and heat, motion and light can be used to help power the IoT boom.


 With such a wide range of applications a multitude of power requirements can come into play. Home appliances or industrial automation equipment, which is inherently connected to power lines, have power easily available. However many applications are mobile, or are in a location which is inconvenient for line power, so an autonomous power sources is needed.  


Power requirements also range widely. An asset tracking application on a semi trailer which uses a cell connection to call in data will need a reasonable amount of power, maybe 5 watt hours per day. A monitoring  sensor which may be calling in status data within an industrial building through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth will take significantly less power, somewhere in the milli-watt hr range. Home security systems which communicate to a central computer will require something in the middle.


To supplement or eliminate the need of replaceable batteries, a few autonomous power generation devices have come into use:


Thermoelectric devices:


Thermoelectric devices can be used as a power source for sensors if there is a temperature gradient available. This means a heat source and a heat-sink which could be just ambient air or a cooling fan. The basis of this power conversion is a voltage created between dissimilar materials and current driven with a material by the temperature gradient. The device comprises two dissimilar materials, typically positive and negative doped semiconductors, with their junction at the heat source. The opposite sides of the semiconductors are at the heat sink. The value of the voltage depends on the specific materials and the current is typically dependent on the temperature difference. The semiconductor materials need to have high thermal resistance in order to keep the temperature difference high. Still, the amount of power is usually quite small.


Thermoelectric generation is viable for sensors in applications such as engines where there is a natural temperature gradient available. There are no moving parts, so they can be quite reliable.


Kinetic power generation:


Cyclic mechanical motion, such as vibration of a moving vehicle or a human walking, can be used to generate power for sensors. Most common conversion methods are some sort of electromagnetic device where a magnet is moved back and forth through a coil by the oscillatory motion. Power available is a function of the power in the mechanical motion. Small power draws will have minimum impact on the mechanical system, but trying to draw significant power from human motion will take significant energy from the individual and may be counterproductive. Power generation is also limited to the actual time in motion. This means that power is available when a vehicle is moving but not when parked. Additionally, mechanical motion results in wear or fatigue of some component, therefore lifetime of the device may be limited.


Photovoltaic power generation:


Light of any intensity or wavelength can be used to generate electricity through the appropriate semiconductor PV device. A simple PV device consists of a junction of positive and negative doped semiconductors which create a voltage at their junction. Light is absorbed by the semiconductor to create carriers which provide the current. The voltage of a single device is determined by the properties of the semiconductor while the current will be directly proportional to the light intensity. Single devices can easily be connected in series to deliver voltages anywhere from half a volt to hundreds of volts. The solid-state nature of these devices make them durable and can be quite long-lived. These devices are very versatile, but are limited to applications where light is available.


With these three methods in mind, which do you think will help support this massive movement towards a more connected and efficient world? Contact Us to learn more about our IoT capabilities or leave a comment below!




Evans, Dave. The Internet of Things: How the Next Evolution of the Internet Is Changing Everything. Geneva: International Telecommunication Union, 2005. www.cisco.com. Apr. 2011. Web.18 Mar. 2016.


Lomas, Natasha. "Nokia Growth Partners Announces $350M Fund Focused On IoT." www.TechCrunch.com. Tech Crunch, 21 Feb. 2016. Web.18 Mar. 2016.


Olavsrud, Thor. "How GE Will Bring the Industrial IoT to Life." www.cio.com. 16 Mar. 2016. Web.18 Mar. 2016.


Vermesan, Dr. Ovidiu, and Dr. Peter Friess, eds. Internet of Things: Converging Technologies for Smart Environments and Integrated Ecosystems. River Publishers. 2013. Web.18 Mar. 2016.


Categories: Internet of Things

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