ARM's Will Tu Wants the Internet of All the Senses

I recently spoke with Tu about the state of the sensor supplier industry and how he thinks it should be responding to growing demand for IoT technologies across industries.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

There is a disconnect between what sensor manufacturers provide and what end users need in their products, Tu believes. Sure, most automakers or mobile suppliers have large teams of engineers who want to just use the essential sensing components, whether those are accelerometers, gyroscopes, cameras, embedded vision, microphones or even smell decoders. Those experts want only the basic sensor components so they can build specific functionality around them. But what about the seemingly limitless list of companies in other industries? If sensor makers could package their products with sufficient computing power to be more like plug-and-play components, he reasons, they could land enough of a sales volume to cover the costs of that extra development work.

"A lot of sensor manufacturers are not conveying their products as turnkey solutions," Tu says. "There are probably four or five microphones in a smartphone, and they might cost handset makers just a few dollars each. But as a sensor company, you can take that same mic and sell it for $10 to an elevator company if you add value to it," and thus turn it into something that the company can easily integrate into its products to support a function, such as voice-controlled operation or an alert system.

Tu says individuals within companies, whether they're large or small, often have a difficult time convincing management to invest in some type of sensing technology that could add functionality or value to their products. Here, he adds, the maker movement and cheap, highly configurable products, such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi computer boards, can play a role, since they support sensors and are capable enough to support a wide range of proof-of-concept prototypes.

Stepping up a bit in sophistication is the IoT Starter kit that ARM, in collaboration with Zebra Technologies and Atmel, has also recently announced. It includes Atmel's SAM W25 Xplained PRO prototyping and evaluation platform, which comes with a pre-configured Atmel SMART ARM Cortex M-based microcontroller. Also included is ARM's mbed operating system for IoT devices.

"We're trying to empower the isolated developers in companies," Tu told me. "They're finding it hard to convince their managers to invest in IoT, but with those starter kits… you can get a rapid proof-of-concept out to show management. It's not as hard as you think it is to build that POC, then show your manager what you did on your own. The barrier to entry has dropped a lot."

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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