Track this trend: The evolution of smart sensors

Wed, 2013-08-14 06:10 -- Jesse Berst

You'll notice confirmation of several important trends embedded in this Bloomberg article about smart sensors.

  • Intelligence is migrating to the edges. It's not feasible to manage millions of field sensors from a giant brain in the center. Instead, the sensors have to do the first-order processing in the field, then forward along only summaries, alerts and exceptions.
  • Sensor intelligence is climbing rapidly. Dozens (hundreds?) of companies are working to stuff more memory and processing power into tiny, low-power sensors.
  • Sensor prices are falling rapidly. Susan Eustis, president of WinterGreen Research, claims they will drop from today's $50 average to less than $1 each.
  • Our ability to create data is overwhelming as is our ability to make sense of it.

Consider those last two items together and you reach an inescapable conclusion. Sensor hardware may be a good business for a few boom years, but prices and profit margins will soon plummet. Meanwhile, data analytics (creating value from sensor data) will grow exponentially.

Want a sense of how sensors will change city living? Read the post on how 70 U.S. cities use sensors to report gunfire directly to police. -- Jesse Berst


The Bloomberg article highlights some of the interesting ways that sensor technology is being utilized. Here just two examples:

  • A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is trying to build the world's largest sensor network – planting some 7,500 devices that will measure everything from soil moisture to temperature and relative humidity to give California farmers and resource planners detailed information on how much water the state has.
  • IBM, a Smart Cities Council Lead Partner, developed a special low-power processor for sensors. Potential applications run the gamut from smart glasses for visually impaired people to a grocer's glove that smells produce to seek out contaminated items.

Geoff Mulligan, chairman of the industry group IPSO Alliance, an organization focused on communications between smart objects, told Forbes: “We’ve not even conceived the possibilities of applications for this. We are at a tipping point for it to begin to explode.”

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.